FROM Aviemore to Antalya. Brooks Koepka completed his journey from a player with real potential – it was there for all to see when he won the Scottish Hydro Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley 18 months ago – to the real deal as the American claimed the Turkish Airlines Open title at Montgomerie Maxx Royal.
Twelve months after Frenchman Victor Dubuisson used the penultimate “Final Series” event to announce his arrival on the world stage, Koepka did likewise. Two behind Australian Wade Ormsby heading into the final round, the 25-year-old signed off with a 65 for a winning aggregate of 17-under-par.
His first victory on either the European Tour or PGA Tour – he’s probably spent equal time on both this year – was achieved through holding off Englishman Ian Poulter. Like a dog with a bone when there’s a sniff of victory in his nostrils, Poulter had edged in front turning for home but couldn’t catch Koepka after he’d delivered a telling blow with an eagle-3 at the 13th.
While angry with himself after failing to force a play-off as a six-foot uphill birdie putt slipped past on the left at the last, Poulter accepted he’d been beaten on the day by a better man. This win was coming for Koepka. He’d been close a number of times in both Europe and America. Third place behind Martin Kaymer in the US Open at Pinehurst in June was no fluke. In fact, don’t be surprised if he goes on to become a major winner as well in the next few years.
“These four events are ones you prepare for all year and to win one of them is very special,” admitted Koepka, who has leapt to sixth in the Race to Dubai rankings after picking up 1,666,660 points. In monetary terms, he earned £750,000, which, to show you how much his star has risen in the game in such a short time, is £722,000 more than he pocketed in Aviemore. “I’ve been knocking on the door and these last maybe two, three months, I’ve been very close over here and in the States,” he added. “I felt like I should have won a couple. But I’ve learned something every time and used that today. I was very relaxed, very calm. It showed, I guess.”
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As the sun returned on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast after two days that had brought rain and a drop in the temperature, a posse of players shared the lead early on – Shane Lowry was one of them until crashing out of contention by spilling five shots in two holes – before it became a two-horse race between Koepka and Poulter.
In the end, the former came out on top as he delivered more of the key moments on the back nine. The aforementioned eagle at the long 13th, for instance. “That was very big for me,” he admitted of hitting a hybrid there to around ten feet. Just as crucial, though, were par-saving putts at the next two holes, as well as a chip that helped achieve the same feat at the 17th, where he’d thinned his approach after being startled by an unexpected noise in the crowd.
The bonus after all that was being spared a play-off. “I did, yeah,” he replied to being asked if was expecting Poulter to hole his putt. “I know from watching him in Ryder Cup that he’s been in this situation plenty of times and he normally holes big putts and gets the job done.”
Failing to do that on this occasion, especially after he’d held a six-shot lead at the halfway stage before opening the door to Koepka and the others in the chasing pack with a sloppy third-round 75, left the Englishman far from enamoured with himself.
“It’s frustrating – there’s no other word for it,” groaned Poulter after closing with a bogey-free 67 as he finished two shots ahead of third-placed Henrik Stenson (64), with Ormsby (71) among four players a stroke further back. “The damage was done on Saturday,” he added. “To have played three great rounds of golf and have just one blip is a real shame. I’ll be angry for a good few days. But that’s fine as sometimes that spurs me on.”
On the plus side, Poulter has now recorded two top 10s back to back since changing his clubs to Titleist. “Sitting 44th in the world at the time, that was potentially dangerous but it has worked out fantastic and I want Thursday [the opening round of the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai] to be now, as I want to rectify a couple of little mistakes and win next week,” he declared.
Stephen Gallacher (70) was leading Scot in a tie for 15th on nine under but still dropped a spot to 15th in the Order of Merit due to the contrived points system. “My long game was great, but I didn’t get it close enough with my wedges for more birdies,” said the Lothian man, who now intends working on that aspect of his game with coach Alan McCloskey in Dubai.
Despite a closing 69 that earned him a share of 19th on eight-under and another good pay-day, Chris Doak fell 12 spots short in his bid to join Gallacher, Marc Warren and Richie Ramsay – penalised two shots for a wrong drop at the eighth in his last round – in the 60-strong field for the season’s finale.
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