Brooks Koepka has established himself as the man to beat at the majors over the last two years, winning four out of the nine signature events in the golfing calendar. Koepka secured his fourth major crown by claiming the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black with a brilliant performance. The American controlled the top of the leaderboard for the opening three days of the competition. He did have a slight wobble on his last round, almost allowing Dustin Johnson to close.
However, Koepka held his composure when it mattered the most to claim the crown by two strokes. The 29-year-old joined Tiger Woods as the only man to have won back-to-back PGA Championship titles in the modern era. Koepka has now successfully defended two titles, having won the US Open in 2017 and 2018. The Masters and The Open have evaded his grasp for now, but he is carving out an elite career at the top of the sport. Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy have had periods of success, claiming majors, but Koepka has surpassed his compatriot and drawn level with the Northern Irishman on four titles.
Woods dominated the 2000s with his imperious hold over the sport. And although he has made a return to form by winning The Masters, his era is in the past, leaving Koepka along with his contemporaries in a battle to be remembered as the leading player from their generation. Koepka is entering similar territory to the journeys that Spieth and McIlroy have been down in the past, with both players failing to kick on from impressive runs at the majors. The 29-year-old will now face that same challenge in the year ahead.
The Calendar Slam
The last golfer to complete the slam was Woods between 2000 and 2001. Woods went on a run, beginning at the US Open with his victory at Pebble Beach before winning The Open and the PGA Championship to round out the year. He returned at Augusta to win the Green Jacket for the first time in his career, taking possession of all four majors at the same time. No player has been able to match the feat of Woods since, although both McIlroy and Spieth have come close.
McIlroy made his charge in 2014 when he won The Open at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club, before backing up his effort by clinching the PGA Championship for the second time in his career. The brilliance of Spieth stopped his attempt as the American produced a brilliant performance at the 2015 Masters, finishing six strokes ahead of McIlroy in fourth place. It was a fine effort from the Northern Irishman, who also placed in ninth at the US Open. McIlroy has been stuck on four majors since, enduring a five-year slump in the elite competitions.
Spieth enjoyed an even stronger run at the calendar slam than McIlroy, beginning with his win at Augusta. He built on his success with a narrow win at the US Open at Chambers Bay, claiming his second major. Spieth had the aura of Woods entering The Open at St Andrews, but only one stroke prevented him from competing in the playoff for the Claret Jug, ending his hopes of holding all four crowns. He ended 2015 by finishing behind Jason Day at the PGA Championship, three strokes off the Australian's winning score. It highlights the task ahead of Koepka, who holds the PGA Championship, but now has to defend his US Open crown for a third year in a row before claiming The Open and The Masters titles.
Can Koepka's Run Continue?
As proven by Spieth and McIlroy, golfers can have excellent runs of form. However, sustaining it over a period of years takes something special in the mould of Woods and Jack Nicklaus. Kopeka has displayed a clinical edge rarely seen to close out his majors. On his final round at Erin Hills in 2017, he produced a five-under score to seize the initiative to take his maiden crown ahead of Brian Harman, who held the lead heading into the fourth day. Koepka found himself in a similar position in 2018, holding a share of the lead going into the final round of the competition. He produced a solid outing to clinch the win, fending off a surge from Tommy Fleetwood to triumph for the second year on the bounce.
Only Willie Anderson has won the US Open three times in a row, which came over 100 years ago in 1905. Winning the US Open again at a price of +850 would pave the way for Koepka to make a charge at the crown. Unlike Spieth and McIlroy, he appears to have nerves of steel, holding his composure even when he's not operating at the peak of his powers. Woods displayed that same cutting edge on his way to his era of dominance. Completing the calendar slam would put Koepka well ahead of his rivals on the tour on seven majors. Woods has 15 after his Masters triumph, and so it would take another few years of dominance on the tour before Koepka could think about joining the true all-time greats of the game.