It wasn’t a major championship, but there was still plenty at stake for Brooks Koepka at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational on Sunday at TPC Southwind. Although, you wouldn’t know it by his prep work. The four-time major winner and three-time 2019-20 PGA Tour champion rolled in for his 1 p.m. CT tee time well after noon. This is about the pace at which Koepka lives and plays, though, and it’s served him well.
Koepka rolled out of his parking space and shot a 3-under 32 on the front nine as playing partner — and 54-hole leader — Rory McIlroy sputtered to an even-par 36. Things didn’t get better for McIlroy on the back as Koepka continued his clean card and went on to close with a 5-under 65 for a five-stroke boat race over the Ulsterman, who finished T4. Koepka cleared runner-up Webb Simpson by three after shooting all four rounds under par.
“To win here, this is really special to me,” Koepka told Amanda Balionis of CBS Sports. “I’ve been playing so well of late. Everything just kind of comes if you let it happen. If you stay patient and keep playing well and putting yourself in contention, a lot of good things will happen.”
The difference for the pair that teed off last turned out to be their putters. McIlroy fell back to the pack after crushing on the first three days, and made just 34 feet of putts on his first 13 holes. Koepka, on the other hand, led the field in strokes gained putting on the day and on the week. You can blindly pick one of the top five or 10 golfers in the world, give them the hottest putter on the week and they’re likely going to win whatever tournament they enter.
There was more than just a WGC (Koepka’s first, by the way) at stake on Sunday. The win guaranteed Kopeka will finish atop the FedEx Cup regular-season points race and receive a $2 million bonus. When you toss in his PGA Championship from the spring and CJ Cup from last fall, he’s also likely locked up his second straight PGA Tour Player of the Year Award, depending on what happens in the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
So maybe the Koepka narrative is all wrong. Maybe it’s not just a major vs. non-major thing when it comes to him. Maybe he just needs the thrill — any thrill — of a big moment and a big day to get his magnificent engine revved up. Maybe it takes nearly $4 million (what he earned on Sunday) to get him out of bed and into his parking spot at all.
Whatever the case, his pace and cadence are built for the long haul. When we look back on Koepka’s career, there’s a chance that 2018 and 2019 are outlier years on the resume of an all-time great. But there’s an equally good chance that they’re not. And there aren’t many golfers historically, given these last two seasons, about whom that would be true. Grade: A+
Here are the rest of our grades for the 2019 WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
Webb Simpson (2nd): After beginning Sunday’s final round five strokes off the lead, Simpson posted a low-round 6-under 64 to earn second place at the event. Save for a bogey on the par-4 ninth hole, he played a clean round that included an eagle on the par-5 third and five birdies, including four on the back nine. He finished second in strokes gained on the week, relying on his trusty putter to play a tremendous 72 holes in Memphis. Grade: A
Rory McIlroy (T4): A week after ejecting before the cut at Royal Portrush in the final major of the season, Rory channeled some of his best with a top-10 finish. He led the field at 12-under through 54 holes before succumbing to the inevitability that is Brooks Koepka, but a solid outing after a disappointing out a week ago is impressive mettle from one of the most gifted golfers on tour. Grade: B+
Jon Rahm (7th): Rahm led the field through 18 holes with a scorching 8-under 62, three strokes ahead of the field. Over the next 54 holes, though, he faded into the background as Koepka, Simpson, Marc Leishman and the rest of the field made their charge. It’s impossible to be disappointed with a top-10 finish, but with the way he started the weekend, it’s impossible to ignore what he could have done. Grade: B
Jordan Spieth (T12): 6 under through his final 36 holes, Spieth made a spirited effort, but was ultimately doomed by his own mistakes. If not for several blow-ups throughout the week — specifically two triple-bogeys in Round 1 and two double-bogeys on Sunday — he could easily have been the winner this weekend. If you replace those four holes with pars, he and Koepka would maybe have been going to a playoff after 72. Grade: B-