Brooks Koepka has 54-hole lead at PGA Championship, seeks fifth major title

AP photo by Abbie Parr / Brooks Koepka waits to play on the 16th hole at Oak Hill Country Club during the third round of the PGA Championship on Saturday in Pittsford, N.Y. Koepka impressed with a 66 on a rainy day, shooting the low score for the second straight round and taking a one-stroke lead after 54 holes while seeking his fifth major championship.

PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Brooks Koepka has his health back, along with his swagger. Now he gets another chance to restore his reputation as golf's toughest customer in the toughest tournaments.

Oak Hill Country Club was every bit of that on a rainy Saturday in the PGA Championship, and Koepka was up to the task. With three big birdies over the last seven holes, Koepka had a 4-under-par 66 — the low round for the second straight day — to build a one-shot lead at 6-under 204 over Canada's Corey Conners and Norway's Viktor Hovland, who each shot a 70.

"I like it when it's difficult," Koepka said. "Today was super difficult."

And then with the slightest grin he added: "I'll take 4 under."

Now he has to finish it off, just like he did with such great poise when he won back-to-back U.S. Opens (2017-18) and then back-to-back PGA Championships (2018-19), earning the rank of "Major Brooks."

This is his second straight 54-hole lead in a major. He was two ahead at the Masters last month until playing it safe in the final round at Augusta National and closing with a 75 as Spain's Jon Rahm tracked him down and beat him by four shots. Rahm is a star on the PGA Tour, where the standard tournament — just like the majors — is 72 holes, while Koepka competes in the LIV Golf League, which plays 54-hole, no-cut events.

"I know what I did," the 33-year-old Floridian said. "I promise I won't show up like that tomorrow."

It wasn't just the most recent Masters. Koepka was two behind Dustin Johnson going into the final round of the 2020 PGA Championship when he boldly said: "When I've been in this position before, I've capitalized. He's only won one (major). I'm playing good. I don't know, we'll see."

He closed with a 74 and tied for 29th.

A year later, he was in the final group with eventual winner Phil Mickelson at the PGA Championship, played the par 5s in 4 over and shot a 74 to finish second.

Koepka has looked so strong that he has made only two bogeys the past two rounds, as pivotal as his 10 birdies on an Oak Hill course that's a brute even in pleasant weather. Only nine players broke par Saturday, when he was more than 6 1/2 strokes better than the average score.

The most recent player to have the low score in the second and third rounds of a major was Tiger Woods in the 1997 Masters, which he won by a record 12 shots. Koepka won't have it that easy.

Conners played Oak Hill like a U.S. Open — that's what this PGA Championship feels like — by opening with two birdies and 13 pars that kept him in front for so much of the wet, grueling day. And then one swing changed everything.

He was in a bunker right of the 16th fairway when he hit the ball so thin that it disappeared into the lip of the soggy turf. Conners wasn't sure where it went, looking up as if it had bounced out toward the fairway.

It was plugged deep in the sod, and Conners had to drop it in gnarly rough on top of a mound framing the bunker. He did well to advance that toward the green into more thick grass and took a double bogey.

"Wish I could have that one back," he said.

In control for so long, he settled himself for two tough pars to close his round.

Hovland overcame mistakes early with three birdies in a five-hole stretch around the turn, but then he failed to take advantage of the scoring stretch — Nos. 13, 14 and 15 — and took a bogey from the bunker on the 18th hole. He will be in the final group of a major for the second time. Hovland was tied with Rory McIlroy in the British Open at St. Andrews last summer and closed with a 74.

Missing from all this activity was Scottie Scheffler, the No. 2 player in the Official World Golf Ranking and the 36-hole co-leader. He started with two straight bogeys and didn't make a birdie — his only one of the round — until the 14th hole. He shot a 73 but is still very much in the mix, tied for fifth with England's Justin Rose (69) at 2 under

"I didn't shoot myself out of it on a day where the conditions were tough and I didn't have my best stuff," Scheffler said. "I hung in there pretty good and didn't post the number I wanted to, but I'm still only four back going into tomorrow. And if I go out and have a great round, I think I'll have a decent chance."

Also still contending is Bryson DeChambeau, who played with Koepka and took a double bogey on the sixth hole for the second straight day. He salvaged a 70 and was three shots behind.

  photo  AP photo by Seth Wenig / Rory McIlroy putts on the second hole at Oak Hill Country Club during the third round of the PGA Championship on Saturday in Pittsford, N.Y.

McIlroy was about like the weather — promising and then bleak — during a wild round that ended with a par save for a 69. The four-time major winner was among only seven players still under par, but he was also five shots out of the lead and alone in seventh.

Asked if there was a 65 at Oak Hill, McIlroy said he would have to keep mistakes off his card "I have to believe that there is a score like that out there because ... I'm going to have to shoot something like that to have a chance to win."

Justin Suh (73) was at par, tied for eighth with Michael Block, a club pro in California who carded his third straight 70. He's the first club pro since 1990 to be in the top 10 after 54 holes at the PGA of America's big event.

Among the six players tied for 10th at 1 over was Chattanooga's Stephan Jaeger, who closed out a 69 with a birdie on the 18th. The 33-year-old former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga standout from Germany, who came to the United States as a high school student at Baylor, is playing the PGA Championship for the first time and set up for his best result in a major.

Jaeger has never played the British Open or the Masters, and while he has made the cut in two of three U.S. Open appearances, he tied for 60th in 2017 and tied for 34th in 2020.

Fellow Baylor graduate Keith Mitchell was tied for 10th after 36 holes but lost ground with a 73 that had him at 3 over and tied for 20th.

Oak Hill was already difficult. And then rain began at the start of play Saturday. It never really let up except for a brief burst of sunshine and shadows, and then the showers returned. Fairways were framed by umbrellas. The rough was thick and wet. McIlroy was among players who wore their caps backward to keep rain from dripping off the bill.

Koepka motored along, and he was particularly sharp with the putter on the back nine. He holed a 15-foot birdie putt on the 12th and made one from 18 feet on the par-5 13th. The real boost came on the 17th, when he rolled one in from just outside 45 feet.

"Felt like it was a bit more aggressive today," Koepka said of his putting. "Especially on the back nine, and putts started banging in the back of the hole."

And then came Conners' blunder on the 16th, Hovland's bogey on the 18th, and Koepka was all by himself atop the leaderboard as he chases a fifth major and a third PGA Championship. Since the event switched to stroke play, only Jack Nicklaus (five) and Tiger Woods (four) have won the Wanamaker Trophy at least three times.

"That would be pretty special to be in a category with them," Koepka said.

Also at stake: A victory moves him to No. 2 in the Ryder Cup standings. Because he plays for LIV, Koepka can only earn Ryder Cup points in the majors.