Brooks Koepka closing in on earning membership to yet another tour
23-year-old could gain status on the PGA Tour with a victory in the Frys.com Open
The Associated Press
SAN MARTIN, Calif. — On a day of low scoring, Brooks Koepka kept up his end of the bargain and stayed in the lead at the Frys.com Open.
In his first regular PGA Tour event, Koepka rolled in two birdie putts to start his round Saturday and drove the par-4 17th green for another birdie. It added up to a 4-under 67 and a two-shot lead over George McNeill and Jason Kokrak going into the final round at CordeValle.
A victory would mean more than just a trip to the Masters for Koepka.
The 23-year-old Floridian started the year with no status on any tour, and since then has earned membership on the Challenge Tour and the European Tour. A victory Sunday would give him a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, and keep him from having to reload the pages in his passport. He already has played in 15 countries this year, with three victories on the Challenge Tour.
“The Challenge Tour prepared me pretty well,” Koepka said. “Learning how to win is a big deal.”
CordeValle was set up for low scoring on a Saturday of ample sunshine and very little wind.
McNeill made 10 birdies in his round of 62 that put him in the last group with Koepka. McNeill is a two-time winner on the PGA Tour. He has never played in the Masters because both victories were opposite-field events that didn’t award full FedEx Cup points.
“I’m going for the record to win the most times without qualifying,” McNeill said.
The Frys.com Open is the first event on the 2013-14 PGA Tour schedule, which has gone to a wraparound season for the first time in history. It’s the start of the FedEx Cup season, offering full points, meaning the winner goes to Augusta National.
Kokrak started his day by holing out from 129 yards in the first fairway for eagle, and he nearly ended his third round the same way. He settled for a short birdie putt and a 68 that kept him in the game.
Olympia’s Andres Gonzales (69) is at 8-under 205, tied for 20th. Kyle Stanley (72) of Gig Harbor is at 6-under 207, tied for 30th, and Tacoma’s Michael Putnam (71) is at 4-under 209, tied for 45th.
Koepka will be paired with McNeill, a pair of Florida State alums.
“Honestly, I’ve never met him,” McNeill said. “Never seen him in person. I would like to.”
And he will, in the final round of the first PGA Tour event of the season with plenty at stake.
• Russ Cochran shot his second consecutive 6-under 66 to take a two-stroke lead after the second round of the Champions Tour’s SAS Championship in Cary, N.C. The 54-year-old left-hander, the 2010 winner at Prestonwood Country Club, birdied five of the first six holes, dropped a stroke on the par-5 seventh and added birdies on Nos. 15 and 17. Defending champion Bernhard Langer, Pullman High product Kirk Triplett and David Frost were tied for second. They each shot their second consecutive 67. Seattle’s Rick Fehr (74) is at 1-over 145, tied for 54th.
• Three consecutive birdies to open the back nine powered Lexi Thompson to the title at the LPGA Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur. The 18-year-old American closed with a 69 in the final round for a 19-under 265 total, beating Shanshan Feng of China by four strokes.
• Scotland’s Scott Jamieson matched the European Tour record with an 11-under 60 to close to two strokes of leader Paul Waring (67, 16-under 197) after the third round of the Portugal Masters in Vilamoura.