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Koepka win shows why Rory needs power surge


No joy: Rory McIlroy during his final round at Bethpage
No joy: Rory McIlroy during his final round at Bethpage
Brooks Koepka

By Brian Keogh

Rory McIlroy extended his winless streak in the Majors to 15 last night, despite finishing with a flourish in the US PGA at Bethpage Black.

But there was at least some Ulster success as Portrush caddie Ricky Elliott helped Brooks Koepka to victory on eight under par, his fourth Major win in his last eight attempts.

Elliott will be handed a cheque for £140,000 from American Koepka, who held his nerve last night after threatening to throw away his commanding lead.

Koepka had entered the concluding round with a seven-shot lead but that was reduced to one after he hit four straight bogeys on the back nine and fellow American Dustin Johnson looked poised to pounce.

But Johnson got into some trouble himself and ended up two shots behind Koepka, who was four over for the round.

Holywood star McIlroy (30) closed with a second successive one-under 69 to end the week in tied eighth place, another top-10 Major finish, on one over par. It was too far behind to join the challengers trying to wrest the Wanamaker Trophy from Koepka, but close enough to believe that a fifth Major win might not be too far away.

"I just need to play the first 27 holes better," joked McIlroy, who was seven over par and tied 123rd midway through his second round before clawing his way up the leaderboard to be provisionally tied 13th when he finished.

"I played the last 45 in six-under par, which was good on a tough course on a tough weekend.

"I could have let my head go down and be home in Florida right now but I wanted to be here for the weekend and I'm glad I could make the most of the opportunity I had to play an extra couple of days."

If he fails to win the US Open at Pebble Beach or The Open at Royal Portrush, the World No.4 will have gone five years without adding to his four Majors.

It's no great drought in the grand scheme of things when compared to the careers of great players such as Lee Trevino, who won five Majors in six years but had to wait another 12 for a sixth, or Ben Crenshaw, who went 11 years between Masters wins.

Total dedication to the game is the biggest challenge facing a player who wins multiple Majors quickly, McIlroy said when asked about Koepka's biggest challenge.

"The biggest thing for me was finding the time to keep your game at the level it needs to be at," he said. "Saying no to things. Making sure that golf and your performance is still the No.1 priority when you start to win.

"You have to make the most of those chances because we are here to make a living and have a livelihood and enjoy ourselves, but at the same time you have to keep your game at the level where it has to stay."

However, it's no real surprise to some of McIlroy's fellow Major winners, not that he's failed to add to his tally, but that the game's biggest events have become tougher to win than ever for a player whose power advantage has waned compared to the new kids on the block

next number of years that will detHis putting was respectable but not clinical enough and while not all Majors require great power - next month's US Open will represent a return to the traditional test associated with that event - the examination at Bethpage was such that it left many begging for mercy,

Graeme McDowell, who was ranked 74th of the 82 players who made the cut with an average drive of 284 yards compared to Johnson's 329, is understanding of the challenge faced by McIlroy in an era when bigger, stronger and more athletic players are emerging in numbers.

"Rory is one of the best young players I have ever seen," McDowell said after carding a level-par 70 to finish on five over. "And he's still one of the best I've ever seen. But it's hard to win and the pool of players that's winning on a week-to-week basis is impressive.

"It feels like there are more of these guys that are so talented - a pool of 80 to 100 guys who can win any given week. As the golf ball goes further and these guys get stronger, how many more Cameron Champs are waiting in the wings? It feels like lots.

"To me, the ball speeds on the Tour and Challenge are faster than the PGA Tour. But thankfully there are not too many Bethpage Blacks on the schedule or I would have to think of getting another job."

McDowell knows he will have a better chance of competing in this week's Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial, or on his return to Pebble Beach for the US Open next month.

"I'd have loved to have broken par," said the Portrush man, who was three under after five holes before making four bogeys and one birdie over the last 10 holes.

"It was a battling level par and fairly happy to get off the course, I've got to be honest with you.

"My game feels good. I'm trying not to get too destroyed by this course. Going out there, 17 behind a guy who is making it look awfully easy; this is not a course that I would pick for me in a Major and Pebble Beach is a golf course that I would pick for me (he won his sole Major, the 2010 US Open, at Pebble Beach).

"I've got Colonial next week which is going to feel like a pitch-and-putt by comparison.

"I'm a bit bruised but the game is okay and I'm looking forward to the next few weeks."

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