Brooks Koepka. Rory McIlroy. Two superstars in the game of golf. Paired in the final round for the first time at a PGA Tour tournament.
Between the two, Koepka and McIlroy share 22 PGA Tour wins combined. Eight major championships, four for each player. Hence why Sunday’s final round at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Classic has the makings of a titan golf battle.
Given that it is the first time Koepka and McIlroy are in the final group, it does not possess the same history and allure as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson going head to head. But all great golfing rivalries are born on the first time. A similar reality that Koepka and McIlroy face as they compete for a World Golf Championship in Memphis Sunday afternoon.
“It will be fun duking it out with him,” said Koepka after shooting a third-round 64. “Rory’s playing some good golf, he’s going to be tough to beat.”
Rory McIlroy Poised for Run at FedEx Cup
Despite missing the cut last week at the Open Championship, Rory McIlroy has amounted a successful season. With two PGA Tour victories, which include the PLAYERS Championship and the RBC Canadian Open, McIlroy is looking to add a World Golf Championship to the resume.
Consistency has been a key ingredient to McIlroy’s success. 11 Top-10 finishes this year propels Rory into the conversation for the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year.
But beating Brooks Koepka head to head will require all facets of McIlroy’s game to be strong. It will prove how McIlroy has become a much more resilient and battle-tested golfer, as his career has progressed.
“It is exciting,” said McIlroy, who leads Koepka by a stroke through 54 holes at TPC Southwind after shooting a third-round 62. “He’s the number one player in the world, four majors in the last three years. He’s the man right now.”
With nine birdies and one bogey on the card, McIlroy surged to the top of the leaderboard. It was his fifth round of 62 or lower on the PGA Tour, four of which have come on a Saturday or Sunday to give him the lead at a tournament. McIlroy has shown he can shoot a low round at tournaments this season, evidenced by his final round 61 at the RBC Canadian Open.
But after the mishap on his home nation’s course of Royal Portrush, McIlroy put in more time focusing on driving accuracy. A component that must be clicking at TPC Southwind, where hitting in the fairway is a must.
“This week, I wanted to focus on neutralizing my ball flight and trying to dial in my distances,” said McIlroy. “All of a sudden, you know, those two little focus points, have made me play some good golf again.”
Brooks Koepka Continuing Stellar Season
Over the past two years, Brooks Koepka has been the man to beat in golf. After a brilliant 2018 where Koepka won two major championships, he followed it up this year with two runner-up finishes at the Masters and U.S Open, successfully defending the PGA Championship, and securing a tie for fourth at The Open.
Koepka has always been fond of Memphis and TPC Southwind. The previous two years, the FedEx St. Jude Classic has been the penultimate tournament before the U.S. Open. Brooks had played in Memphis both times before winning back-to-back U.S. Opens. The first to achieve such a feat since Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989.
“I love this place. This place has always been good to me. I love the golf course,” said Koepka.
With three rounds in the ’60s, Koepka is in the driver’s seat to add another victory to an already stellar season. Being World No. 1 and the favorite to secure the $2 million Wyndham Rewards Bonus for leading the FedEx Cup Points heading into the Playoffs peaks Koepka’s interest.
His laser focus in major championships has been put on display this week. With 94 percent Greens in Regulation in his third round, Koepka knows that in addition to his solid iron play, he needs to drive better and not get underneath the ball as much.
“If you hit the fairways, you’re going to have a lot of wedges so you should be able to hit it close and shoot a low number,” states Koepka.
The Rebirth of the FedEx St. Jude Classic
With the announcement of the PGA Tour schedule changes, one of the most notable was the FedEx St. Jude Classic becoming a World Golf Championship. Already one of the most popular and sentimental stops in the golf calendar now has even more importance with the rebranding as a WGC event.
Normally, the best players in the world skip the week after a major championship. But not if it’s Memphis and a World Golf Championship. And with Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka going toe to toe in the final group on Sunday, the tournament could not have asked for a more star-studded leaderboard. There are 11 or more players within five shots of the lead. McIlroy has won this tournament before back in 2012. Koepka is looking to cement his Player of the Year status.
All of these factors encompass the conglomeration of a tournament that is trending in the lucrative direction for years to come.
“This is what you want,” affirmed Koepka. “The best players coming down the stretch on Sunday with a chance to win. This golf course really brings out some of the better players. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”