With Koepka out front at PGA, 2nd place plenty to play for

Sports

Jazz Janewattananond, of Thailand, reacts after sinking a putt for birdie on the third green during the third round of the PGA Championship golf tournament, Saturday, May 18, 2019, at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, N.Y. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (AP) — There’s a pretty good competition going on in the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, only it’s not for the Wanamaker Trophy, the nearly $2 million first-place prize and a major tournament title.

As defending champion Brooks Koepka opened a seven-stroke lead heading into Sunday’s final round, the rest of the field turned its attention to the race for second place. Four players are tied at 5 under, with two more another stroke back through three rounds, and there is plenty on the line.

“I think we’re all playing for second,” said Luke List, who shot 69 on Saturday and was tied with Harold Varner III, Dustin Johnson and Jazz Janewattananond. “I’m going to go out and try to have a good round tomorrow.”

According to the oddsmaker Bovada, Koepka has a 94% probability of winning his second straight PGA Championship, and he has such a big lead that the gambling site is taking bets on the competition without Koepka. (Johnson is the 3-2 favorite.)

“Look, it’s going to be really tough to catch Brooks,” said Erik Van Rooyen, who was tied for 12th at 2 under. “The way he’s playing, I don’t really see him coming back to the field. But anything can happen. We’ve seen crazy stuff happen in sports.”

And, even if it doesn’t, second place at the PGA Championship will pay $1,188,000 — about $800,000 less than the winner, but still more than Matt Kuchar got for winning the Sony Open in January. (Third place takes $748,000; that’s Barbasol Championship money.)

And sure, there’s no trophy for coming in second, but the 60 world ranking points that go to the runner-up is more than the winner takes home from all but two regular tour events on the schedule. A solo second-place finisher would also collect 330 FedEx Cup points, more than Lucas Glover made in 18 starts when he finished 135th in the standings last year.

Those who can’t climb to second still have the chance for some lovely parting gifts: The top four earn an invitation to the 2020 Masters, a top-15 finish punches a ticket for next year’s PGA Championship in San Francisco and everyone in the top 24 will take home a six-figure payday.

“I’ll try and finish highest of the bunch that I’m around and see where that puts me,” said Matt Wallace, who is tied with Hideki Matsuyama at 4 under.

“I want to be here and I want to be competing, and I’m kind of here now, even though Brooks is miles ahead,” Wallace said. “I’ve got to do some work tomorrow and try and get as many world ranking points as I can, and that will give me confidence. … That’s important to me, and there’s a lot of drive for me to go out there and prove myself, and try and put a good show on for the crowd.”

The 23-year-old Janewattananond is a veteran of the Asian and European tours who missed the cut in the British Open last year, his only other major. He bumped into Tiger Woods on the range this week and congratulated him on winning the Masters, but Woods didn’t appear to know who he was.

Then Woods left after missing the cut, and Janewattananond played on.

“I watch these guys on TV,” he gushed on Saturday. “Whoever I play with tomorrow is going to be a better golfer than me. To be playing here in contention is already a win for me.”

Varner, who will play with Koepka in the final pairing on Sunday, has made the cut once in his four previous majors, and he’s never won a PGA Tour event. He’s probably not going to win this one, either, but that doesn’t change his outlook.

He said he’s not tempted by the FedEx Cup points, or the exemptions, or even the million-dollar payday for coming in second.

“I like money a lot but that’s not why I play. … It just hits my account. I don’t ever see it,” he said, adding that he also hadn’t seen the leaderboard to know how far behind he was.

“Right now I want to think about playing solid golf,” he said. “That’s what I’m doing. And I think when I do that, everything takes care of itself.”

No one knows that better than Koepka.

He was too far back to challenge Martin Kaymer when he won the 2014 U.S. Open by eight strokes. But Koepka played himself into a tie for fourth, earning a Masters invitation that kick-started his career.

“I wasn’t in contention. We were all kind of jockeying for second place because Martin was so far ahead,” Koepka said. “But I felt calm on the back nine, and I felt like I played well, and that’s because I wasn’t thinking about winning. All I was trying to do was just hit good golf shots coming down the stretch.

“Once I learned that, not thinking about, ‘Hey, I can win the golf tournament,’ not anything else, just other than I want to hit the best possible shot I can at this moment. That’s when everything kind of simplified for me.”

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