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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Some players already had finished their final rounds and left TPC Southwind for the weekend.
Meanwhile, Brooks Koepka’s parking spot sat empty.
The world’s No. 1 player was scheduled to tee off at 1 p.m. Sunday in the final pairing of the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational but, at noon, was nowhere to be found.
Finally, he showed up at 12:13.
Koepka never missed a beat.
A Ford Expedition pulled up to the side of the TPC Southwind clubhouse and Koepka hopped out. He strutted without much urgency toward the clubhouse as his caddie trailed behind toting his golf bag.
Soon after, Koepka was on the putting green as the clock ticked under 40 minutes until his tee time.
He spent a few minutes on the driving range and then ambled over to the first tee box, where he ripped his first shot of the day down the heart of the fairway.
The pristine beginning provided an omen for Koepka’s final round. Preparation? Nah, Koepka knew what he needed to do and executed with precision, finishing 16-under par for a 3-shot victory over Webb Simpson.
“It’s so special,” Koepka told CBS after tapping in for par on the 18th green. “Everything, St. Jude here, FedEx here, it gives me chills even thinking about it. It’s been one of my favorite stops on tour for four or five years. So to win here is really special to me.”
A conservative final round would not have gotten the job done. Koepka couldn’t fire a 4-over final round on Sunday like he did in a winning effort at the PGA Championship in May.
He needed to make birdies because several players lurked within striking distance.
Playing six groups ahead of the final pairing, Simpson charged to second place late in the afternoon and finished alone there with a final score of 13-under after shooting a 64 on Sunday.
“You know, chasing a guy like Brooks Koepka or Rory McIlroy is a tough thing,” Simpson said. “So I knew it was going to take a low round. But I also know that this golf course, if you’re a little off, you can get some penalty shots quickly. So I had hope starting the day.
“But Brooks looks like he’s playing some good golf.”
At one point early in the final round, four of the top five on the leaderboard had at least made a birdie on No. 3.
As one of only two par-5s on the course, the hole represented an easy, early chance for players to shave a stroke.
However, McIlroy missed the opportunity. The world’s No. 3 player entered the day with a 1-shot lead on Koepka, and he carried that lead into the third hole.
Then McIlroy fired an iron left of the green with his second shot and was forced to chip onto the green from a sloping lie in the rough.
McIlroy rolled the chip to within 10 feet of the cup but missed the birdie putt.
Koepka birdied the hole to gain a tie for the lead. Two holes later, Koepka surged ahead. After six holes, Koepka led by two, having turned a deficit into an early advantage that he never relinquished.
The third hole also proved especially advantageous for Simpson, who made eagle to jump-start his surge.
Ultimately, he played his last two holes 3-over par to finish at 8-under in a tie for ninth place.
Watson’s finish was his best since a tie for fourth at the the Valspar Championship in March.
Employing someone familiar with TPC Southwind as his caddie for the week proved to be a wise move for Aaron Rai.
Rai entered as the world’s No. 179 player and was exempt because he won an event in Hong Kong. He connected with former Evangelical Christian and University of Memphis golfer Jonathan Fly and hired him as his caddie for the week.
With a Memphian on the bag, Rai shot a 66 on Saturday and a 67 Sunday to finish the tournament 6-under.