SHANGHAI: Brooks Koepka has won half of this year’s Majors and is golf’s newly anointed world No. 1, but the red-hot American has warned his rivals that he can get even better as he leads an elite field into this week’s WGC-HSBC Champions.
The US PGA Tour Player of the Year is the man to beat in Shanghai after he coolly shot a final-round 64 to clinch victory in the CJ Cup in South Korea last week and ascend to golf’s top ranking for the first time.
“The way I’m playing right now, I feel like I can win anywhere,” said Koepka — a joint runner-up in Shanghai last year — ahead of the $10 million event which begins today.
“I don’t feel like I’ve peaked at all. I feel like I can get a lot better. You can always improve.
“With maturity you learn new things about yourself every day.”
The 28-year-old, who combines a powerful game with a cool demeanor, said he feels “no pressure” after rising to the top ranking.
Chasing him is the usual who’s who of star names drawn annually to Sheshan International Golf Club for the tournament dubbed “Asia’s Major” which carries a winner’s purse of $1.8 million.
Justin Rose is one of the four players, along with Koepka, who has been world No. 1 this year.
World No. 2 Dustin Johnson, reigning US Masters champion Patrick Reed, four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy and last year’s tournament winner and world No. 3 Justin Rose are in a field that boasts 19 of the world’s top 30.
Also on hand is the “MoliWood” duo of Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood, who provided the spark for Europe’s dominating Ryder Cup win, along with several of their teammates.
Johnson memorably imploded last year in the final round at Sheshan, surrendering a six-stroke lead compiled through 54 holes and opening a door that Rose barged through to win.
The big-hitting American said that was history.
“I didn’t play that badly. I just hit a couple of iron shots that cost me the tournament,” said Johnson, who lifted the trophy at Sheshan in 2013 with a tournament record 24-under par total of 264.
“That’s just golf sometimes. You’ve got to take it, learn from it and move on.”
Rose warned that Koepka was “looking fresh” after his win in South Korea, at a time when many players are drained from traveling across the globe to the region after an intense season.
“(Koepka) is getting his due now. It’s been a real breakout year for him,” Rose said.