US PGA: Our final round best bets to take home the Wanamaker

20 players within six shots of Koepka? It's gearing up to be a classic.....


How well will Brooks Koepka have slept on Saturday night after hitting the sack with a two-shot lead at the 100th PGA Championship?

The American might have snoozed like a newborn, satisfied with a very good day’s work at Bellerive, a third-round 66, and confident that a similarly efficient outing on Sunday will see him hoist the Wanamaker Trophy having landed a second major championship win of the year.

Or it could have been a fitful, restless night in muggy St Louis, the 28-year-old fearing that back-to-back bogeys on the 14th and 15th may cost him dearly with a top-quality chasing pack of major champions breathing down his neck over the final 18 holes.

I’m guessing it’s the former. Major victory number three is in the world number four’s sights and the stats are on Koepka’s side as he bids to become just the fifth player to win the US Open and PGA Championship in the same year.

In the 60 years since the PGA became a stroke play competition, the third-round leader has gone on to win this tournament 34 times while on the PGA Tour this year, 25 of the 41 54-hole leaders/co-leaders have held on for victory.

That Koepka is one of those 25 and his overnight lead was also at a major will have aided his sleep considerably, for as recently as June he was part of a four-way tie for the third-round lead at Shinnecock Hills. And playing what was a notoriously unpredictable course on New York’s Long Island he fired a last-day 68 on to edge home by one stroke and successfully defend his US Open crown.

Repeating that feat and adding the PGA Championship in the same season will put him in an elite club alongside Gene Sarazen (1922), Ben Hogan (1948), Jack Nicklaus (1980) and Tiger Woods (2000).

And there will be some comfort for Koepka in the fact that recent history at this final major of the year suggests only a limited number of rivals will be capable of overhauling him with the last 28 PGA champions have come from the top five after 54 holes.

Yet as already noted, this is a leaderboard chock full of major champions; Adam Scott, Jason Day, defending champion Justin Thomas, Charl Schwartzel, Stewart Cink and that man Tiger as well as in-form big guns Rickie Fowler and Jon Rahm among the 10 players within four shots of Koepka’s 12-under-par lead heading into Sunday’s final round while Open champion Francesco Molinari lies a further shot behind on seven under.

The top 20 are within six shots of the leader, all hoping to chase the leader down during what seems set to be another grinding day in oppressive heat on a course which has produced a field scoring average of just above par 70 on each of the first three days.

What will separate them, aside from the usual stomach-wrenching tension final rounds at the majors always deliver? It could come down to fitness and stamina after Friday’s thunderstorm forced half the field to finish their second rounds on Saturday morning.

Ireland’s Shane Lowry, another just four behind Koepka on eight under, set his alarm for 4:30am in order to complete a second-round 64 on a day that would see him follow up with a third-round 69 while Woods and Thomas, both also on eight under, played 29 holes on Saturday, Day 28 holes to get to eight under and Fowler 27 to reach nine under.

Koepka did not. He had already signed for a second-round, seven-under 63 when the hooter sounded to halt play on Friday and, tellingly, he is one of the fittest guys out there.

So who can challenge Koepka, the 13/10 favourite for victory? Here’s the rundown.

2nd – Adam Scott (10 under) @ 8/1

A poignant week for the 2013 Masters champ after losing friend and fellow Aussie pro Jarrod Lyle to cancer. No top-five finish in two years but owns the third-round low score of 65 to join Koepka in the final group. How far can emotion take Scott on Sunday?

T3 – John Rahm (9 under) @ 8/1

World number three and like Kopeka immensely powerful, matching the leader’s third-round 66. Always capable of a low final round will relish the chase.

T3 – Rickie Fowler (9 under) @ 8/1

Hanging in there in his search for a breakthrough major but on the slide since an opening 65 on Thursday with a second-round 67 completed on Saturday morning and a 69 in the afternoon.

T3 – Gary Woodand (9 under) @ 18/1

With a 71 for his third round, the halfway leader was the only contender to shoot over par, highlighting his inexperience in this elite company. Still without a top 10 at a major but 15/8 to make the top 5 here.

T6 – Tiger Woods (8 under) @ 18/1

Despite playing 29 holes on Saturday, still managed to shoot back-to-back 66s. Feeling the strain but desperate to atone for a disappointing finish at The Open having briefly led during the final round.

T6 – Justin Thomas (8 under) @ 12/1

Defending champion who came from two behind last year at Quail Hollow to land his first major title.

T6 – Shane Lowry (8 under) @ 40/1

Unfancied after a poor season but on the rise with brother Alan newly installed as caddie. The Irishman followed a second-round 64 with a 69, finishing with a birdie at the last of the 26 holes he played on Saturday. Is 4/1 for a top-five finish at Bellerive.

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