LIV Tour fans went to bed Saturday night dreaming of celebrating Brooks Koepka as the rebel tour’s first Major champion.
On a rainy Saturday when most of the PGA Tour’s finest continued to schlep their way around Oak Hill, Koepka played brilliantly enough to establish himself as the clear favorite entering Sunday’s final round.
Koepka shot 66 for a three-round score of six-under 204 and a one-stroke lead over Viktor Hovland and Corey Conners. Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm, the two season-long standard-bearers on the PGA Tour, stumbled to scores of 73 and 72 and linger four and 12 strokes back respectively.
Here’s how dominant Brooks Koepka was Saturday.
His round of 66 translated to 2.66 standard deviations better than the day’s 72.61 field average. It beat the best any of the PGA Tour regulars could do – Tommy Fleetwood’s 68 – by two strokes.
It also went a long way toward ensuring that in LIV’s broader effort to use the PGA to establish credibility, the Sunday outcome is likely to be a knockout. Three-quarters of the way toward the finish line, the 16 LIV competitors are averaging 71.98 strokes at Oak Hill. That’s more than a half-stroke lower than the PGA Tour contingent’s 72.54.
If that margin holds up Sunday – and given the events so far that outcome is almost a mathematical certainty – it will be the first time since LIV came into being that its golfers outshone the PGA Tour regulars in a competition where both sides were represented.
As was the case Thursday and Friday, the LIV delegation seemed to play with more focus and intensity Saturday. Five of its members – that’s just short of one-third – shot 70 or better. Only two –Phil Mickelson and Sihwan Kim – blew as high as 75.
Of the 52 PGA Tour regulars who made the cut, 11 shot 70 or better Saturday…but that only amounts to 21 percent of the group. Beyond that, 11 others shot 75 or worse, and some were much worse. Callum Tarren and Mark Hubbard turned in 79s, and Joel Dahmen, Taylor Moore, and Ben Taylor all had 78s.
The only LIV-related test left for Koepka, who is seeking a third PGA title and fifth Major, is to establish that playing only 54 hole events has not impacted his physical stamina or mental concentration over 72 holes. On his way to a tie for second at last month’s Masters, he led Rahm by two strokes entering Sunday’s play only to falter to 75. Rahm won by four.