FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — It would have made the perfect pairing: Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, close friends and workout buddies, ranked first and third in the world, in the final group of the fourth round of a major.
Didn’t happen. And the way Koepka is playing, it might not matter if Johnson — or Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus in their prime — was in the same twosome at the PGA Championship.
Johnson bogeyed the 18th hole Saturday to fall into a four-way tie for second place, seven shots behind defending champ Koepka. Johnson recognized how much lower his 1-under 69 could have been at Bethpage Black. He also knew he’d blown a chance to close the gap on Koepka, who shot even par after rounds of 63 and 65.
“I’m going to need some help from him, and then I’m going to have to play very, very well,” Johnson said, bemoaning five bogeys that pretty much offset his six birdies. “I’ve played a lot of golf with him. I see a lot of myself, we both hit it long and straight. He’s a really good player.”
As is Johnson, of course. But when it comes to majors, Koepka is well ahead of his pal. Should he hold on this weekend, Koepka will own back-to-back wins in the U.S. Open and the PGA. Johnson’s lone major victory came in the 2016 U.S. Open, though he’s contended in a bunch of majors.
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Johnson, owner of 20 PGA Tour victories and one on the European Tour in Saudi Arabia, would be replaced by Koepka at No. 1 if Koepka wins.
Second best: There’s a pretty good competition going on at Bethpage Black, only it’s not for the Wanamaker Trophy, the nearly $2 million first-place prize and a major tournament title.
With Koepka so far ahead, the rest of the field turned its attention to the race for second place. Four players are tied at 5 under, with two more another stroke back, and there is plenty on the line.
“I think we’re all playing for second,” said Luke List, who shot 69 and was tied with Johnson, Harold Varner III and Jazz Janewattananond. “I’m going to go out and try to have a good round tomorrow.”
Second place at the PGA Championship will pay $1,188,000 — about $800,000 less than the winner earns, but still more than Matt Kuchar got for winning the Sony Open in January. (Third place takes $748,000; that’s Barbasol Championship money.)
And sure, there’s no trophy for coming in second, but the 60 world ranking points that go to the runner-up is more than the winner takes home from all but two regular tour events on the schedule. A solo second-place finisher would also collect 330 FedEx Cup points.
Those who can’t climb to second still have the chance for some lovely parting gifts: The top four earn an invitation to the 2020 Masters, a top-15 finish punches a ticket for next year’s PGA Championship at Harding Park and everyone in the top 24 will take home a six-figure payday.