Can Brooks Koepka Catch Tiger Now That It’s Obvious He’s Chasing Him?

The PGA's top golfer is making a habit out of taking down the most popular player in the world any chance he gets

Brooks Koepka and Tiger Woods at the 2019 PGA Championship. (Stuart Franklin/Getty)
Brooks Koepka and Tiger Woods at the 2019 PGA Championship. (Stuart Franklin/Getty)
By Evan Bleier / June 17, 2019 2:14 pm

On Sunday at Pebble Beach, Brooks Koepka was vying to become the first player since Willie Anderson in 1905 to win the U.S. Open three times in a row. Though he made a significant charge down the stretch, the 29-year-old came up a few strokes short, finishing in second place, three back of first-time winner Gary Woodland.

“I have a lot of respect for [Koepka],” said Xander Schauffele, who finished tied for third. “He’s doing exactly what he’s saying. If you want to quote me, he is a cockroach. He’ll probably laugh at that … But he’s like a cockroach, he just won’t go away.”

Schauffele was trying to pay the world Number One a compliment, albeit an odd one. Comparing Koepka to a bug is the type of thing that keeps him going. But it isn’t his only motivation.

While Koepka may not have been able to surpass Woodland or match Anderson, he made history nonetheless as he became the first player since 2005 to finish at No. 1 or No. 2 at the Tour’s first three majors.

The player who accomplished that feat nearly 15 years ago? Tiger Woods.

And if there’s one thing we’re learning, it’s that Koepka is making a habit out of taking down the most popular golfer in the world any chance he gets. Woods is the gold standard, and Koepka knows that.

Tiger Woods and Brooks Koepka at the 2019 PGA Championship. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

In 2005, Woods won the Masters, took second at the U.S. Open and then won the British Open before falling off pace and tying for fourth at the PGA Championship. It’s not hard to imagine Koepka finishing fourth or better at the upcoming British Open in Northern Ireland — he’s finished first or second in five of his last six majors and has won four of his last nine.

“They are more similar than anybody is talking about,” sports psychologist Gio Valiante told Golf Digest of Koepka and Woods. “It goes very deep. It even shows up in their patterns of speech and use of language, their pauses, their beliefs. In a psychological sense, if not performance, of him alone he’s the most Tiger Woods we’ve ever seen.”

As Koepka further reinforced yesterday, his career path, at least at this point, compares quite favorably to Woods’. Consider: Woods won his first major in his 15th attempt as a pro. When Koepka took the PGA Championship last month, it was his fourth in just 22 overall major appearances.

In the past, Koepka has said he’s not intimidated by the so-called “Tiger Effect.”

“Nobody’s ever intimidated me on a golf course,” Koepka told InsideHook last month. “It’s not like we are going to fight or he is going to knock my teeth in. There’s no reason to be afraid of anybody unless we were going to get into a fight. It’s just golf. It’s just a game that you play. At the end of the day, somebody’s going to win and somebody’s going to lose. It’s a sport.”

Already on the record as saying he doesn’t see why he can’t get to “double digits” in major wins, Koepka hasn’t said it outright, but he certainly seems to have his sights set on catching Tiger (15 majors).

Whether he’s able to do it or not, especially now that the lights are starting to get brighter on a player who’s largely flown under the radar (and thrived on it), remains to be seen.

As Woods’ own rocky career path illustrates, stars like the one Koepka has become often burn out quicker than anticipated and it’s possible that will happen to him.

But don’t expect it to be at the British Open.