PITTSFORD, N.Y. — He's back, and he won't make the same mistake again. Brooks Koepka's play on Saturday proved the first part of that sentence: a second-straight 66 on a brutally difficult golf course to take a one-shot lead into the final round of the PGA Championship. The man himself insisted on the second part, referring to his bitterly disappointing final-round 76 at last month's Masters to lose the tournament to Jon Rahm.
"I won't do it again the rest of my career," Koepka said Saturday, alluding to a mindset that, in hindsight, he absolutely. hates. "That doesn't mean that you can't go play bad—you can play good, you can play bad but I'll never have that mindset or that won't ever be the reason."
He is, without question, the man to beat tomorrow. He's closed out four major championships and two in the state of New York. He's back to full strength after years of a nagging knee injury. And he's back to playing world-class golf, winning the week before the Masters, holding the 18-, 36- and 54-hole lead at Augusta and showing solidly in his LIV Golf starts since.
Nothing seems to bother him during weeks like these, when he kicks it into overdrive and carries himself with a quiet yet formidable confidence. He was paired on Saturday with Bryson DeChambeau, a twosome that would've exploded the internet a few years ago in a pre-LIV universe. Asked after the round how his pairing went, he kept it terse.
"I mean, I shot 4-under, so you tell me."
It's a New York attitude from a player who relishes the spotlight, and no fans make you feel in it as much as New York ones. Yes, we're as far away from the City as the City is from Washington D.C., but Brooks still feels at home.
"I love New York. It's always fun. Like I said, you do something really well, they are going to let you know; and if you do something pretty poor, they are going to let you know, and I just love that. I love when the fans are on you, cheering for you, or you know, giving you crap if you screw up. That's the beauty of it. You want that, or at least I want that atmosphere."
One shot behind are Viktor Hovland and Corey Conners—Hovland held a share of the lead before a bogey at the last, and Conners played bogey free until disaster struck at the par-4 16th, where his second shot from the fairway bunker plugged into the lip and led to a momentum-killing double bogey. Two shorts further back is Bryson DeChambeau, who played his final five holes in two under to salvage an even-par 70. Justin Rose and Scottie Scheffler are four back, and Rory McIlroy is five back with an outside chance should he be able to post something in the mid 60s.
"If I look at today, I made enough birdies to shoot a score like that," McIlroy said after a second-straight 69. "I just needed to keep those mistakes off the card. I need to keep hope. I have to believe that there is a score like that out there because looking at the board, it's probably a score I'm going to have to shoot something like that to have a chance to win."
One guy who won't likely won't win the tournament is Michael Block, but he's been a fantastic feel-good story this week. The 46-year-old club pro out of Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in California never gave professional touring golf a try but said Saturday that "no one on the grounds loves golf more than me." He gives lessons on the back porch at Arroyo Trabuco and said earlier this week that he hits balls less than once a week. And yet there he is, tied for eighth after 54 holes on the strength of three consecutive even-par 70s. He will play the final round alongside Rory McIlroy in a made-for-Hollywood turn of fate. And he's not letting the moment pass him by without appreciating what's happening in his life.
"I'll look back at it and I'll say, I'm glad you enjoyed it," Block said of how he'll process this week down the road. "I'm glad you enjoyed the moment. I've learned at this point to enjoy the moment, to sit back and relax and enjoy it because it goes by fast, and life goes by fast. Before you know it, you're 60 years old and retired and look back at the videos on this and remember that was the best week of my life, and more than likely this is probably going to be the best week of my life. So I'm going to sit back as much as I can with my friends and family at the house we rented and watch the videos tonight and see all my new followers on Instagram. It's been crazy, it's been awesome. Yeah, it's been really cool, and my biggest thing is just enjoying the moment for sure."
Enjoying the moment should be easier on Sunday. A steady downpour soaked Oak Hill all day on Saturday, and while the course absorbed the water remarkably well, it still wasn't a particularly pleasant day to be outside. Sunday's forecast calls for sunny skies and mid 60's temperature. Perfect weather to go out and win a major championship.