And to do so faced with a leaderboard that is as loaded as the credits of a Quentin Tarantino movie will require the kind of effort Koepka normally reserves for a major championship.
Koepka ended a pop-up-storm-delayed second round Friday alone in the lead of this FedEx Cup denouement, thanks to a closing birdie on the par-5 18th. He shot 67 on Friday, and once the adjustments were made under the staggered scoring system for this event, he stood at 13 under. And he felt it might have been better had that pesky rain not interrupted him between nines.
“I mean, the lead’s always nice, so I’ll take that,” Koepka said. “I played good today. I putted really good. Short game was pretty solid. The rain delay kind of killed any momentum I had. I didn’t feel like I had any good golf shots after the rain delay, but that’s part of golf. Everybody’s got to deal with the same thing. I just didn’t execute.”
Koepka was one better than Justin Thomas (who shot 68 on Friday) and Rory McIlroy (67). And just two up on first-round co-leader Xander Schauffele, who required a birdie-eagle finish to push his score under par for the day (69).
Throw Paul Casey into the mix (he’s at 9 under in adjusted score). And you have a top five heading into the weekend that have a combined 40 PGA Tour wins, eight major championships and a couple of FedEx Cup titles. Only Casey, at No. 21, is outside the top 11 in the world rankings.
Such credentials portend some tough sledding for them all this weekend.
As he reported to another day of golf/work Friday, Koepka was greeted by a nude photo of himself posted at his East Lake parking space. It was the same one released the day before, the one that he proudly posed for as part of ESPN’s celebration of the athletic body. His buddy Dustin Johnson was the perpetrator.
You never would have caught Mr. Jones posing for Vanity Fair wearing nothing but his knickers and a smile, but times have changed.
Mr. Glutes of Steel was so abashed by the prank that he went out and shot a nervy round that over the final five holes included par-saving putts of 13 feet and eight feet, as well as a virtual tap-in birdie at the finish.
For another day at least the golf universe was aligning behind the certain Player of the Year on Tour.
The simple fact that Thomas – and for that matter Patrick Cantlay, too – came into this tournament ahead of Koepka in season-long points was almost enough to make a person really take a deep dive into the math of the system to try to understand how such a thing could happen. Almost.
Let’s compare the seasons of the top two on the leaderboard at East Lake.
PGA Tour wins: Koepka 3; Thomas 1.
Finish in majors (in order of Masters, PGA Championship, U.S. Open, British Open): Koepka 2-1-2-T4; Thomas T12-DNP-Cut-T11.
Top 10 finishes: Koepka 10; Thomas 6.
Scoring average: Koepka 69.45 (4th on Tour); Thomas 69.48 (5th).
World rank: Koepka 1; Thomas 5.
Money winnings: Koepka $9.7 million; Thomas $5 million.
The only area in which Koepka trails his friend is in the season-long bet the two of them made over who would have the most hole-outs when it was all over. Thomas is positioned to lift a couple of thousand from Koepka, which the loser will take out of petty cash.
That and how the two had played the pair of playoff events leading to East Lake. Finishes of T-30 and T-24 in those really hurt Koepka in this volatile playoff system. Thomas won last week in Chicago and finished 12th the week before.
Both Thomas and Koepka struggled to regain their rhythm after the rain delay caught them just as they were ready to play the back nine. Thomas was 1 over on the back, while Koepka scrambled to remain at even par.
“It would be hard for me to say that it didn't kind of stop my momentum because I was playing really flawlessly, I felt like, that front nine,” Thomas said.
It was McIlroy, coming back after the delay and going 3 under on the back side, who made the most of his competitor’s sluggish restart.
The result of it all: A lot of very good players stacked up like traffic at Hartsfield-Jackson, and only one can land first and beat the rest to the $15 million.