For once, long hitters have the outright biggest advantage at a Major.
In our previous story, we broke down how Bethpage Black plays to an advantage for big-hitters.
Heading into the weekend, this statistic clearly defines how the course plays and the final day leaderboard fully validates the situation.
The Machine Brooks Koepka
Koepka sits at 12-under 198 (63-65-70). In this tournament’s history, this is the largest margin (7 strokes) after 54 holes. It would require Koepka to pull off a ‘McIlroy at the Masters’ to not leave Bethpage Black with the Wanamaker Trophy in hand.
As written previously, he ranks 14th on Tour for greens in regulation and distance off the tee, both of which translates into his insurmountable lead after three days. After 54 holes, Koepka leads the field in greens hit (43 of 54) and he’s made just five bogeys across the three days.
“I know what I’m doing. It’s simpler than what guys think,” Koepka said. “It’s just focus. It’s grind it out, suck it up and move on.”
If he does win this week, Koepka joins Tiger Woods as the only player who has successfully defended the PGA Championship.
Big Hitters Galore
Tied in second place at 5-under-par are three of the longest hitters on Tour and an Asian prodigy.
Luke List, Dustin Johnson, Harold Varner III and Jazz Janewattananond.
Johnson’s length off the tee is common knowledge for every golfer and Varner is one of the few golfers under 1.75m to average past 300 yards. List on the other hand is ranked 3rd on Tour for driving distance at 313 yards.
List has never won on the PGA Tour and has only made three top-10s this season. In eight majors that he has competed in, he has only made the cut twice – at the 2005 Masters and 2018 Open Championship.
“Obviously, Brooks is playing tremendous golf, and who knows what could happen. Some majors in history show some big leads, guys come back from. Hopefully this is one of them,” said List.
Varner is also another player who has never tasted success on tour. In the 106 events he has played across six seasons on the PGA Tour, he has only been in the top-10 ten times.
However, he made history a while ago by being the first African-American golfer to advance to the PGA Tour via the Web.com route.
In his previous four Major appearances, he failed to make the cut three times and finished tied for 66th at the 2016 Open.
Johnson, the current world number one, has in this tournament, fallen into the shadow of Koepka, who also happens to be his training partner.
That would be swing coach Claude Harmon III, son of famed instructor, Butch Harmon, who has trained many major winners in his lifetime, including playing a pivotal part in the development of a young Tiger Woods. Their split, till this day, has baffled many.
“The things I’m most happy [about] is I’m happy for them,” the younger Harmon said in an interview. “They put in the work. They’re the athletes. You see how hard all of these guys out here on the PGA Tour work, the goal is to have success.”
Johnson’s form has been nothing short of hot, recording one win, one second-place finish and six top-10s in just six events this season.
Out of the main six statistics, he comes in top-10 in three of them, and on Friday, he showed why he is one of the best in the world.
Johnson recorded birdies at holes 15 and 16 — both 500 yard par fours. He crushed both drives more than 315 yards to give him a short iron into each green. He made 14 birdies but was also blemished by nine bogeys.
At just 23-years-old, the up-and-coming Thai star has moved into a tie for second place at a major with just 18 holes to play.
Janewattananond made headlines when he won the SMBC Singapore Open earlier this year and is also scheduled to compete at the Open in July.
With the New York crowd cheering him on, it is no surprise that he said, “It’s the greatest fun of my life,”.
Janewattananond’s destiny and future looks bright, especially if he does finish high on the leaderboard.
He entered the week ranked 72nd in the world rankings and if he can sneak into the top 60 this week, he will be exempted for the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in June.
A top-four finish also means an automatic invitation to the 2020 Masters.
However, he has his eyes on the Presidents Cup this December at Royal Melbourne.
“The short-term goal is to get in the upper world rankings so I can confirm my spot in the Olympics and maybe have a chance at the Presidents Cup. That’s a realistic goal for me,” said the soft spoken golfer who became the youngest player at age 14 to make the cut at an Asian Tour event back in 2010.
If Janewattananond does well on Sunday, he will join fellow compatriot Kiradech Aphibarnrat as the only two Thais playing on the PGA Tour.
But the real story may just be that this gentle lad from the ‘Land of a Thousand Smiles’ can do well enough to hold a Major trophy in his hand in the years to come.
Against the Johnsons and Koepkas of the world, it does seem a daunting task to tackle, but this tournament has shown how resilient a talented David can be up against the Goliaths of the golfing world.
Nine strokes is a long shot but imagine the insanity of it all if destiny does arrive Sunday at Bethpage Black for Jazz Janewattananond.
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