Brooks Koepka might have been out for four months but he showed ominous signs of form when he made an albatross two en route to a course record-equalling 63 in The Players.
Having returned to action at the Wells Fargo Championship just a week earlier, the American lipped out from 14 feet at the 18th for a 62 having made six birdies and just the second albatross in the history on the par-5 16th hole to scorch to 11-under par.
It wasn’t enough to win the event but with just four weeks to go before his US Open defence at Shinnecock Hills, it was enough to put a smile on the face of the Floridian and his Irish caddie, Ricky Elliot, after a long lay off with a wrist injury.
“There’s nobody more excited to be here than me, I can tell you that,” said Koepka, who almost didn’t tee it up in the first round after a tweaking his wrist on the range when a golf cart drove in front of him and he was forced to stop mid-swing.
“To get back out, it felt like it took forever. The days were very long during that four-month period and to get out, it’s refreshing to be outside and just to get started practicing.
“I thought that was so much fun and even finally to get back in competition because that’s what I miss the most.”
After turning at four-under Koepka birdied the 14th and then watched his six-iron from 208 yards at the 16th one-hop into the hole for a two just 12 months after Rafa Cabrera Bello made the first albatross there.
Koepka then birdied the treacherous 17th from five feet but his 14 footer at the 18th for a 62 caught the edge of the hole.
“I thought I made it,” Koepka said after it lipped out.
He laughed when he holed out for his albatross having complained to Elliot early in the round that he hadn’t left himself a tap-in since returning from his wrist injury at the Wells Fargo earlier this month.
“Since we’ve come back I don’t think we have hit one like inside the leather where you can walk up and just tap it in,” Koepka said.
“And then hit one pretty tight on 14 and then obviously make one on 16. If you’re going to talk about it you might as well do it.”
If Koepka was happy, Shane Lowry also had reason to be optimistic ahead of his return to Europe for next week’s BMW PGA Championship.
The Offaly star has struggled for consistency this year, but he could be one to watch again at Wentworth after making 28 birdies in his last two events, 17 of them at Sawgrass where he was 45th on five-under-par.
Having made the cut on the mark after a gutsy 68 on Friday, the world number 82 made five birdies last night, closing with a 71.
And while he was left to rue two bogeys and a double bogey at the ninth, where he found water off the tee for the second time in four rounds, he was ranked inside the top 10 for putting in Jacksonville Koepka was later joined on 11-under by US PGA champion Justin Thomas, who closed with a 66 to leave late finisher Dustin Johnson in danger of losing his world number one crown.
“Although I know you don’t get a trophy for that and there’s no purse money, it’s something that would be really cool,” Thomas said of the world number one ranking.
“I hope to have it at some point in my career and keep it for a long time.”
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