WHO’D have thought it? Less than two years after he won the Scottish Hydro Challenge in Aviemore, Brooks Koepka now looks a better bet than Tiger Woods to become a challenger to world No 1 Rory McIlroy.
Don’t get me wrong. Koepka had already started to create quite a buzz among his fellow players when he arrived at Macdonald Spey Valley with two Challenge Tour wins under his belt in 2013.
Instant promotion to the European Tour followed after he chalked up a third victory that season on the second-tier circuit and fourth in total, having landed his maiden professional success during the previous year.
In truth, it probably took Koepka, a mighty hitter, longer than many people expected to get his first victory on the main Tour, but a Turkish Airlines Open triumph last November has now been followed up with a first PGA Tour in the Waste Management Phoenix Open on Sunday.
It has lifted the 24-year-old up to 19th – a climb of 14 spots – in the world rankings, his rise coinciding with Woods dropping to 56th, having been in the top spot a year ago before first losing it to Adam Scott then McIlroy.
There’s more to come from Koepka. Much more. Don’t be surprised, in fact, if he adds a major to his CV before too long and expect future Ryder Cups to become a lot more difficult for Europe if the likes of him, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Billy Horschel begin to form a new backbone of the American team.
Koepka seems a man of his word. Let’s hope so because he’s often talked about how important coming over to Europe at the start of his career was in terms of the success he’s achieved so far.
His latest victory will see him being encouraged to start focusing mainly on the PGA Tour, but he can only get even better by enhancing his global experience and become the biggest American trend-setter in that respect over the next decade.
Over the past few months, we’ve now seen Koepka, Spieth, Reed and Horschel all make their mark at the highest level, creating an interesting storyline for this season as the US golfing public watch to see who’s going to emerge as McIlroy’s main challenger.
It was fascinating during the US Masters last year to witness how much the American media seemed to be pulling for Spieth when he headed into the last round in contention and, conversely, the tinge of disappointment afterwards that Bubba Watson had come out on top instead.
They probably see Spieth as their heir apparent to Woods, whose game is now in such disarray that some of his shots are being compared among fellow scribes to the awful fare – not exclusively from yours truly, either – served up in the Association of Golf Writers’ Home Internationals.
Seriously, can you honestly believe someone who achieved so much success in the game on the strength of raw talent has been struck by such a bad dose of the chipping yips that have been caused, he says, by a “different release point” in his full swing under new coach Chris Como – the fifth different person he’s now worked with.
It’s sad to watch one of the game’s greatest players suffering what can only be described as a public humiliation. Which is why it makes you wonder if Woods wouldn’t be better trying to sort it once and for all – if that’s possible – rather than teeing up in this week’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.
Former US Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger probably hit the nail on the head when he described Woods as having gone from “artist to engineer”. By that, he clearly means the 14-times major winner has become way too technical with every aspect of the game.
Contrast that with how McIlroy goes about his business at the moment. He’s an absolute joy to watch, needing very little input from his coach, Michael Bannon. There was a real maturity there, too, on Sunday as he didn’t take any risks holding a big lead in Dubai after seeing both Charl Schwartzel and Martin Kaymer throw away titles already this year. There’s a growing belief that we might not get that chance now to see McIlroy and Woods go head-to-head with both firing on all cylinders, but do we really need to despair about that?
The American media, in particular, will need to wake up to the fact soon that Woods is now a country mile behind Rory in all aspects of his game, yet the likes of Spieth, Reed, Koepka, Horschel and, of course, Rickie Fowler are all capable of ensuring golf doesn’t go through another phase of domination by one player.