Rory McIlroy defends Dustin Johnson after Brooks Koepka comments
"I was just sort of taken aback a little bit by what he said"
The Rory McIlroy-Brooks Koepka rivalry - even if Brooks does not want to acknowledge it as such - has just ramped up another notch.
Koepka and McIlroy have both won four Majors apiece but both had to look on, at TPC Harding Park on Sunday, as Collin Morikawa won the US PGA Championship in what was only his second ever Major appearance.
Koepka and McIlroy both know what it takes to go the distance at a Major, but the two men have differing views on how to comport themselves as a leading contender in most fields they play in.
McIlroy is known for his raw honesty but most of that revolves around his own game. He offers opinions on fellow pros but rarely tries to pick holes in the games. Koepka, on the other hand, has a touch of the alpha dog about him.
Looking ahead to that final round of the PGA, the American put the leading pack on notice. "I like my chances," he declared, and few could argue with him. He has been held back by knee and hip issues, in the past year, but he was the defending PGA champ and sat only two shots adrift on overnight leader Dustin Johnson heading into Sunday afternoon.
Johnson, who started on -9, has one US Open victory to his name but, before Sunday, he had not managed to win three other Majors despite leading after 54 holes. Well aware of that fact, Koepka told reporters:
"When I've been in this position before, I've capitalised. I don't know, Dustin's only won one. I'm playing good. I don't know, we'll see."
As it transpired, Johnson came up short again. He carded a final round of 68 to finish on -11 but Morikawa shot 66 to end up on -13 for his first ever Major triumph. Koepka's walk did not match his talk as he shot a disappointing 74 to end up tied 29th.
Koepka's four-round total of -3 ended up just one better than McIlroy, who rebounded well on the final day to close out with a 68. Asked about Koepka and his comments on Johnson, the Holywood native had plenty to say.
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"I certainly wouldn't say... ," McIlroy began before collecting his thoughts.
"It's different, right; it's a very different mentality to bring to golf [by Koepka] that I don't think a lot of golfers have.
"Yeah, it's... I was watching the golf last night and heard the interview and was just sort of taken aback a little bit by sort of what he said and whether he was trying to play mind games or not. If he's trying to play mind games, he's trying to do it to the wrong person. I don't think DJ really gives much of a concern that.
"But just different. I certainly try to respect everyone out here. Everyone is a great player. If you've won a major championship, you're a hell of a player. Doesn't mean you've only won one; you've won one, and you've had to do a lot of good things to do that.
"Yeah, I mean, sort of hard to knock a guy that's got 21 wins on the PGA Tour, which is three times what Brooks has."
McIlroy riding hard to the defence of Johnson. The 31-year-old perhaps remains conscious of the time, late last year, when Koepka - who was then World No.1 - took a swipe at McIlroy.
Koepka had been asked about a potential rivalry with the Northern Irishman over the next few years when he responded:
"I’ve been out here for, what, five years. Rory hasn’t won a major since I’ve been on the PGA Tour. So I just don’t view it as a rivalry... I’ve got open road in front of me I’m not looking in the rearview mirror, so I don’t see it as a rivalry. You know if the fans do [call it a rivalry], then that’s on them and it could be fun."
The tournaments will come thick and fast now, and until September, as we get FedEx playoffs, the money-spinning final event of that competition and two more Majors, the US Open and Masters, in September and November.
Golf, and its' soap opera storylines, is doing its best to provide a distraction in these trying times.