Brooks Koepka gets Rory McIlroy over the line in Race to Dubai

American owed lunch by world number one, who says season saw the best golf of his life

 

Some more boxes were ticked, as Brooks Koepka – an American who is not adverse to criss-crossing time zones – won the Turkish Airlines Open today, his maiden win on the European Tour; and Rory McIlroy, who hasn’t lifted a club in competition for a month, was confirmed as the winner of the Race to Dubai, ensuring his appearance in the desert this week will be a formal coronation.

“To win the Race to Dubai for the second time really is something truly special,” McIlroy said in a press release this evening. “That four-week spell over the summer, from the Open to the US PGA Championship, would have to be the best golf of my life so I feel like I’ve really earned the Race to Dubai.

“Winning it for the first time two years ago was a fantastic feeling but I feel like I’m now a more complete player and my all-round game has moved to another level. I’ve put in a lot of hard work this season, with my game and my fitness, so it’s nice to get the rewards at the end of it.”

For Shane Lowry, however, there was only frustration today as his quest to challenge for the tournament – and also to break into the world’s top-50 – unravelled in the space of two holes. Within moments of eagling the par-five fourth hole to jump into a share of the lead on 12-under, the Offalyman came back to earth with a thud. He triple-bogeyed the fifth and then double-bogeyed the sixth and eventually signed for a final round 73 for 281, seven-under-par, and some 10 shots adrift of Koepka.

Koepka, a 24-year-old Floridian who holds cards on both the US Tour and the European Tour, shot a final round 65 for 271 to finish a stroke clear of Englishman Ian Poulter, with Sweden’s Henrik Stenson two shots further back in third. Poulter had a six-foot birdie putt on the 18th to force a play-off, but missed. “I thought it was right edge on a decent pace and it broke across the hole,” he said.

Second Captains

Did Koepka think Poulter would hole that putt to force a playoff? “Yeah, I did. He’s been in this situation plenty of times; watching him in Ryder Cups and everything, he gets it done. I think if you look at his track record, he holes big putts and he gets the job done. I was kind of mentally prepared to head back to 18.”

In fairness to Koepka, who assumed the lead with an eagle on the 13th, he had to battle for pars on a number of occasions coming in to finally get across the winning line. On the 15th and on the 17th, after he thinned his approach when startled by a roar from the crowd, and again on the 18th where he had to chip back to the fairway after an errant tee shot: he had to do it the hard way, which made it all the more pleasing.

“Rory can buy me lunch in Dubai,” quipped Koepka, acknowledging that his win – which earned him a cheque for €930,740 – prevented any of McIlroy’s closest pursuers in the Race to Dubai standings from catching the Northern Irishman.

Koepka – with Ulsterman Rickie Elliott on his bag, a partnership which started at last year’s US PGA championship – moved from 61st up to 35th in the world rankings, although he had already secured his place in the field for next year’s Masters tournament at Augusta on the back of his top-five finish in the US Open.

A proven winner on the Challenge Tour – where he won four times last year to win full tour status – Koepka had found it tougher to make his breakthrough on the main circuit. “I’ve been knocking on the door and I’ve learned something every time, and used that . . . I was very relaxed, very calm.”

It was a case of what might have been for a number of players, most notably Poulter who had seemed to have one hand on the trophy for much of the tournament only to come up short. “I was happy to play well last week (in the HSBC in China) and really angry that I didn’t finish that one off and I’ve done the same this week. Two weeks where I know I probably could have won had I hit a couple of different shots at different times,” lamented Poulter.

Lowry, too, could look back with some regrets. In the end, he finished in tied-25th – picking up a cheque for €53,636 – but a fast start to his final round had put him right into the mix. He grabbed birdies on the first and third and eagled the fourth, hitting a five-iron from 212 yards to four feet. At that point, he was in a share of the lead on 12-under. Then, it all went horribly wrong.

On the par-three fifth, his five-iron tee shot plunged into the water and he ran up a triple bogey six. On the next hole, his tee shot found the water hazard down the left and, then, his third shot was plugged into a greenside bunker. “I could barely find the ball,” said Lowry, who eventually located it under the lip. He was forced to take a penalty drop and ran up a double bogey six.

“I knew it was going to be one of those days after that. I stopped seeing lines on putts, it was difficult from there on . . . I tried my hardest, my goal was to get in on level par, but then made a bad mistake on 17 (hitting a tree with his approach in running up another bogey). Even my good shots were turning over a little bit, so it is something to work on and straighten out before Thursday,” said Lowry, referring to the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.

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