By Tom LaMarre
Brooks Koepka will defend his titles the next two weeks in the WGC-Fed Ex St. Jude Invitational at TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tenn., and the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.
However, Koepka is the same golfer he was when he claimed five victories in the last two seasons after stem-cell treatment last October to repair a partially torn patella tendon in his left knee.
“Had an MRI (recently),” said Koepka, who has missed the cut in two of his three starts in the PGA Tour restart after the shutdown because of the Coronavirus pandemic. “Nothing has changed. We’ll see how it goes. Just wanted to check on it, see where it’s at.
“We got the (first) results right after Korea (the CJ Cup late last year), and then we just wanted to check (again). Nothing is improved, it’s still the same. So we’ll figure it out when we’re done. I feel OK, feel physically fine. It has its moments.
“I just can’t get on my left side.”
Koepka, who was top-ranked in the World Golf Rankings for a total of 47 weeks the last two years but is down to No. 6, also shot 80 in the final round of the Memorial Tournament to tie for 62nd.
His only top-10 finish this season was seventh in the RBC Heritage, and at 155th in the FedEx Cup point standings, Koepka needs some good results to climb into the top 125 and qualify for the playoffs next month.
Including Koepka, nine of the top 10 in the World Golf Rankings also are in the field at TPC Southwind—top-ranked Jon Rahm (pictured) of Spain, No. 2 Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, No. 3 Justin Thomas, No. 4 Webb Simpson, No. 5 Dustin Johnson, No. 7 Bryson DeChambeau, No. 8 Patrick Reed and No. 10 Patrick Cantlay.
The only one missing is No. 9 Adam Scott of Australia, who has not played in any of the seven events since the restart after the shutdown in March because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Another player not in the field in the eighth week of the PGA restart is 15th-ranked Tiger Woods, who has won a record 18 WGC tournaments. Tiger has played only once since the restart and tied for 40th in the Memorial Tournament two weeks ago.
“Disappointed to miss @WGCFedEx, but doing what I think is best to prepare me for the @PGAChampionship and upcoming FedExCup Playoffs,” Woods wrote in a Twitter post last Friday, the final day to commit to the tournament.
Also in the 80-player field are Daniel Berger, who won in Memphis in 2016 and 2017 before the FedEx St. Jude became a WGC event, Tony Finau, Rickie Fowler, Tommy Fleetwood of England, Gary Woodland, Xander Schauffele, Marc Leishman of Australia, Hideki Matsuyaka of Japan, Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, Shane Lowry of Ireland and Sergio Garcia of Spain.
Among the young guns are Viktor Hovland of Norway, Abraham Ancer of Mexico, Matthew Wolff, Collin Morikawa, Joaquin Niemann of Chile, Max Homa, Christiaan Bezuidenhout of South Africa, Scottie Scheffler and Cameron Champ.
Last year, Koepka beat everybody by a least three strokes, but as we said, he’s not that guy right now.
- Jon Rahm, Spain – The new world No. 1 is coming off his 11th victory since turning pro in 2016, winning the Memorial two weeks ago. Rahm has five top-10 finishes this season and is eighth in the FedEx Cup standings. His best WGC finish came when he lost to Dustin Johnson in the 2017 Match Play final and he was seventh in Memphis last year.
- Bryson DeChambeau, United States – Coming off a missed cut in the Memorial to end a streak of six top-10 finishes, including his sixth PGA Tour victory in the Rocket Mortgage Classic, he is fourth in the FedEx Cup point standings. DeChambeau’s best finish in the WGC events was second in WGC-Mexico Championship earlier this season.
- Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland – Having lost the No. 1 spot in the world, McIlroy is looking to get back on top in a tournament he won in 2014 at Firestone. He tied for fourth in Memphis last year, one of his 26 top-10 results in the WGC, including three victories. Rory has six top-10 finishes this season and is fifth in the FedEx Cup point standings.
- Justin Thomas, United States – JT is the FedEx Cup points leader with two victories this season and eight results in the top-10, including solo second recently in the Workday Charity Open. Thomas won this tournament two years ago at Firestone and finished 12th last year at Memphis, and has six top-10 finishes in the WGCs in the last four seasons.
- Webb Simpson, United States – Finished second in the WGC-FedEx St. Jude last season, three strokes behind Brooks Koepka, and has four top-10 results in the WGCs during his career. Simpson is second in the FedEx Cup standings with six finishes in the top 10, including victories in the Waste Management Phoenix Open and RBC Heritage.
- Patrick Cantlay, United States – Seemed to be rounding into form with a tie for 11th in the Travelers and a tie for seventh in the Workday after the restart, before closing with a 79 to tie for 32nd in the Memorial. Cantlay has three top-10 results in the WGCs since 2018, including a tie for sixth in this tournament in 2018, and tied for 12th last season.
- Dustin Johnson, United States – After winning the Travelers for his 21st PGA Tour victory, DJ missed the cut in the Memorial at 80-80 and shot 78 in round one of the 3M Open before withdrawing because of a back injury. He says he will be ready this week and has six WGC victories plus 14 top-10s, winning this event in 2016 at Firestone.
- Daniel Berger, United States – Claimed first PGA Tour victories at TPC Southwind in Memphis in 2016 and 2017, before the FedEx St. Jude became a WGC event. His only top-10 result in the WGCs was a tie for second in the 2016 HSBC Champions. Berger won the Charles Schwab Challenge after the restart and has five top 10s this season.
- Tyrrell Hatton, England – Has four straight top-10 finishes, two straight after the restart, and claimed his first PGA Tour victory and eighth as a pro in the Arnold Palmer Invitational before the shutdown in March. Hatton has five top 10s in the WGC events since 2017, the best a tie for third in the WGC-Mexico Championship two years ago.
- Viktor Hovland, Norway – This is Hovland’s first full season on the PGA Tour and he has never played in any of the World Golf Championships, but that shouldn’t be a problem. He claimed his first pro victory in the Puerto Rico Open in February and has three top 10s and seven top 25s this season, including third recently in Workday Open.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Brooks Koepka, United States; Hideki Matsuyama, Japan; Xander Schauffele, United States; Collin Morikawa, United States; Tommy Fleetwood, England; Tony Finau, United States; Marc Leishman, Australia; Patrick Reed, United States; Shane Lowry, Ireland; Gary Woodland, United States.
- Abraham Ancer, Mexico – Has four top 10s, including two seconds, and seven top 25s to rank 15th in the FedEx Cup standings. Was T-4 in 2019 WGC-HSBC Champions.
- Max Homa, United States – T-3 last week in 3M Open, his fourth top 10 and seventh top 25 this season. T-61 in this event last year, his only appearance in the WGC events.
- Scottie Scheffler, United States – Had two wins on 2019 Korn Ferry Tour and two thirds among eight top 25s on PGA Tour this season. Playing in his first WGC event.
- Joaquin Niemann, Chile – The 21-year-old won at Greenbrier to start he season and has three top 10s, including T-5 recently in RBC Heritage. This is his first WGC start.
- Christiaan Bezuidenhout, South Africa – A T-22 in Memorial was fifth top-30 in first PGA Tour season. Has four pro wins and was T-17 in 2019 WGC-HSBC Champions.
For first-round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html