Brooks Koepka would have been gearing up for a US PGA Championship three-peat this week.

Based on the form he hit at majors from 2017 to 2019, it's not too far-fetched to suggest a global pandemic is one of the very few things that could have prevented him from achieving the feat.

His is a curious CV. Of the seven wins at PGA Tour-sanctioned tournaments to his name, four have been major triumphs.

This is a man who cuts to the chase, in deeds and in words.

Speaking ahead of his US PGA Championship defence at Bethpage Black last year, Koepka declared: "I think sometimes the majors are the easiest ones to win."

Nobody says that. It's doubtful anyone even thinks that, Koepka included, but he went ahead and said it anyway.

Delivering that line, absent any irony, spoke as much to the American's strengths as any crunching drive he has ever hit, or nerveless put he has sunk.

It shone a light on his mental fortitude, a character trait forged by the fierce heat of his own burning desire to have his achievements recognised.

You see, for all his relentless brilliance at his last 10 major outings – he added four top-six finishes alongside his quartet of wins – Koepka has never been elevated to the kind of stardom enjoyed some of his less successful contemporaries.

Dustin Johnson, who won his first and to date only major a year before Koepka got off the mark, boasts a higher profile and greater name recognition beyond the sport, as does Jordan Spieth, who hasn't won a major since 2017 and now resides 56th in the world rankings.

He can't match Rory McIlroy's global appeal, and as for competing with Tiger Woods for the spotlight, forget it.

That he has not been extended an invitation to join the golfing glitterati is a curious snub, but one that appears to have served him well, instilling in Koepka a hunger that has fuelled his voracious appetite for success.

Without it, he would be neither the man nor golfer he is today.

And if any of his rivals hoped a flurry of landmark victories would sate his craving for silverware, they gravely underestimated the extent of his ambition.

Asked in the aftermath of his win at Bethpage how many majors he might accumulate, Koepka replied: "Double digits, easy! I don't see why I can't get to double digits."

Well, they are the easiest ones to win.

Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka are "too nice" to engage in the sort of rivalry that once existed between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, says Chris DiMarco.

Back in October, Koepka, winner of four majors between the 2017 U.S. Open and 2019 US PGA Championship and ranked number one in the world, dismissed the notion of McIlroy being one of his nearest challengers for golf's biggest prizes.

"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," Koepka said.

McIlroy took a diplomatic approach in his reply, saying Koepka had not said anything out of turn and the pair are good friends.

"I love Brooks, he's a great guy," McIlroy said of the comments."He's obviously super-competitive, like we all are. I can see where he's coming from.

"I think if you take what Brooks said out of context then it can become this big thing that it's become. But Brooks and I are good, we're good friends."

McIlroy then recorded seven consecutive finishes inside the top five to return to the summit of the rankings prior to the suspension of the PGA and European Tours as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

But DiMarco believes there is too much talent in the game now for two players to engage in a genuine rivalry such as the one Woods and Mickelson – where he said there was once a "genuine dislike" – had during the 2000s.

"The problem is both those guys are so nice, like literally to everybody," DiMarco told Stats Perform.

"So, it just seems if there is a rivalry between them it's almost kind of made up. They kind of live in the same area, it's almost like they talked to each other and said, 'let's just kind of jab back and forth with each other and make a rivalry'. They're too nice. 

"There's really in all honesty just too many great players right now. Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson there's too many – Rickie Fowler – for two people to just kind of make themselves higher than anyone else, I don't think it's going to happen anymore. 

"Obviously, Rory and Brooks over the last two years have probably been the best two but Dustin Johnson has been up there, Jon Rahm was looking like he could be number one here with a win a couple of weeks ago.

"There are a lot of hungry players out there and you're never going to see a rivalry kind of like you saw with Tiger and Phil, that's what people wanted to see because there was a genuine dislike for each other. 

"Now they're friendly, so now it's a little bit different, but back then there was a genuine dislike for each other, and they were clearly the number one and number two player in the world for many years so that rivalry you want to see. 

"I think these kids nowadays are just nice, and that's great, I love it, I always played as a nice guy too."

However, DiMarco does feel there is one player who would happily play the role of villain against either McIlroy or Koepka.

"I think the one guy who is probably a disliked guy out there on our Tour or the regular Tour is Patrick Reed," DiMarco added.

"If he ever makes it to number one then there's that guy people would love to hate again, he relishes in that, he loves being in that position, loves it when people give him crap. 

"If you could get a guy like Brooks Koepka – or Rory McIlroy – and Patrick Reed who maintain that level for so long, then you certainly have your true villain in Patrick Reed and your true good guy in one of those other guys."

Hideki Matsuyama tied a course record to take a two-stroke lead as the opening round of The Players Championship was suspended due to darkness on Thursday.

Matsuyama fired a nine-under 63 to tie the course record at TPC at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

The Japanese star mixed an eagle with eight birdies and a bogey during a brilliant opening at the PGA Tour event.

Starting on the back nine, Matsuyama made four straight birdies before dropping a shot at 16, only for another four birdies to follow before an eagle at the par-five ninth.

Of the previous four players to shoot a first-round 63 at the tournament, three have gone on to win – Greg Norman (1994), Martin Kaymer (2014) and Jason Day (2016) – according to the PGA Tour.

Harris English, Christiaan Bezuidenhout and 2017 champion Kim Si-woo are tied for second after firing seven-under 65s.

Marc Leishman, coming off a runner-up finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, is tied for fifth at five under alongside Patrick Cantlay.

There are 15 players tied for seventh at four under, with Webb Simpson, Graeme McDowell and Viktor Hovland among them.

Only four players were unable to complete their rounds, with Bronson Burgoon (one under through 17) the best placed of that group.

Defending champion Rory McIlroy was unable to get going in the opening round, finishing with an even-par 72, while Jordan Spieth battled to a 75 and Rickie Fowler carded a four-over 76.

Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka both opened with 70s, while Justin Thomas managed a 71.

Meanwhile, the PGA Tour announced on Thursday the rest of The Players Championship and several other upcoming tournaments will be held without fans due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tyrrell Hatton held his nerve to close out a maiden PGA Tour triumph at the Arnold Palmer Invitational by a single stroke.

Englishman Hatton went into Sunday with a two-shot lead but was taken to the wire by Marc Leishman amid unforgiving conditions at Bay Hill, where there was only one round in the 60s over the course of the weekend.

Rory McIlroy was one of the stars to suffer, as a run of five over in the space of five holes effectively ended his challenge before finishing tied for fifth with a four-over 76.

Hatton opened with a bogey but reached the turn three ahead thanks to back-to-back birdies.

He found water at 11, where a double bogey put his bid for glory back in the balance and he headed to the last one ahead of Australia's Leishman.

It was an advantage the 28-year-old managed to retain, carding 74 to finish four under for the tournament.

"It's hard to explain. It's just an incredible feeling," Hatton told the Golf Channel after his win.

"It was such a tough day today, actually felt like I was kind of playing myself out of it a little bit when I made double on 11. When I saw the scoreboard on I think it was the 14th green I realised I had I think it was a one- or two-shot lead at the time and I was a little bit surprised.

"But to hold on and win here at such an iconic venue, I'm just over the moon."

South Korea's Im Sung-jae finished third at two under, with Bryson DeChambeau fourth on one under overall.

Tyrrell Hatton opened up a two-stroke lead after the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational as players struggled in difficult conditions on Saturday.

The Englishman is on track for his first PGA Tour win, sitting at six under despite his one-over 73.

Hatton is two shots clear of Marc Leishman (72) and Rory McIlroy (73) after a tough third round at Bay Hill.

Having held a share of the overnight lead, Hatton mixed four birdies with three bogeys and a double bogey, but it was enough to sit top of the leaderboard.

Leishman and McIlroy were solid, making 14 and 15 pars respectively during their rounds, and are in contention.

Such were the challenging conditions, Max Homa was the only player to shoot a round under par with his 70, although he is back in a tie for 16th at one over.

South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout (73), South Korean Im Sung-jae (74), New Zealander Danny Lee (75) and American Harris English (74) are tied for fourth at three under.

Sung Kang, who shared the overnight lead with Hatton, battled to a six-over 78 that left him outright eighth at one under.

The South Korean was even through 10 before producing two triple bogeys – at 11 and 18 – including finding the water twice at the former.

Four-time major champion Brooks Koepka carded a nine-over 81 that included eight bogeys and a double as he dropped to a tie for 64th at 10 over.

Matt Every carded a blemish-free 65 to lead by one shot from fellow former champion Rory McIlroy after the opening round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

American Every overcame high winds as one of the late starters to record seven birdies on a Bay Hill course he knows well, having triumphed at the tournament in 2014 before defending his title the following year.

His performance was even more impressive considering he missed the cut at the Honda Classic a week ago after an 85 on the Friday.

The 36-year-old edged clear at the top of the leaderboard with a three at his penultimate hole after McIlroy - winner in 2018 - had overcome a sluggish start to set the clubhouse target.

Starting on the back nine, world number one McIlroy found water as he bogeyed his second hole but managed to still be under par at the turn thanks to a pair of birdies.

McIlroy then produced some blistering golf on his way back in, including an eagle at the fourth where he overcame finding a fairway bunker off the tee with a stunning shot out of the sand.

"I made a couple of unforced errors starting off. I hit it in the water at 11 and actually made a good bogey in the end, and then missed a little one on 12," McIlroy told Sky Sports.

"I think with the start, then turning in under par with the birdie at 16 and 18, I had a bit of a pep in my step going to the first tee. I played some great golf after that.

"I got a bit of a momentum and kept it going until the end."

Talor Gooch and Scottie Scheffler sat tied on five under, a shot ahead of a six-man group that included Graeme McDowell, who was victorious at the Saudi International last month.

Patrick Reed posted a two-under 70 and Brooks Koepka signed for an even-par 72, while defending champion Francesco Molinari pulled out before starting his round due to a back injury.

Brendan Steele moved to the top of the Honda Classic leaderboard as star pair Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler missed the cut.

Steele carded a three-under-par 67 to earn a one-stroke lead after the second round of the PGA Tour tournament in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida on Friday.

A three-time Tour champion but seeking his first title since 2017, Steele holed five birdies and two bogeys to move to five under through 36 holes at PGA National Golf Club.

J.T. Poston (69) and English pair Luke Donald (66) and Lee Westwood (69) are a stroke off the pace at the halfway stage of the event, while Gary Woodland (67), Nick Watney (66), Sepp Straka (67) and Cameron Davis (67) complete the top five.

Harris English and Tom Lewis were co-leaders following the opening round, but both players struggled on day two.

A second-round 74 saw English drop down into a share of 24th, while Lewis's five-over-par 75 saw him slip to one over for the tournament.

It was a forgettable round for former world number one Koepka and Fowler, who failed to make it to the weekend.

The cut line was three over and four-time major champion Koepka finished eight over following back-to-back 74s – Friday's round featuring two double-bogeys and a bogey.

"I struck it really well," said Koepka, who missed December's Presidents Cup due to a knee injury. "Really pleased with how I'm hitting it… Everything is good. No complaints. It has nothing to do with my knee.

"Just need to pick it up a little bit, pick up the pace, give it maybe a little bit more touch around the greens, a little bit more feel. But the way I'm striking it, I'm very pleased. I feel very happy with it."

Fellow American Fowler posted a 68 but he still missed the cut at four over, while Justin Rose (74) and defending champion Keith Mitchell (72) also failed to qualify for Saturday and Sunday.

Tom Lewis and Harris English share a one-stroke lead after the opening round of the Honda Classic, where Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler endured a difficult start.

Englishman Lewis and American golfer English – both competing on sponsor exemptions – carded four-under-par 66s in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida on Thursday.

Lewis, a two-time European Tour champion seeking his first PGA Tour title, was flawless with an eagle and two birdies at PGA National Golf Club.

English, who has won two PGA Tour trophies but last tasted success in 2013, had an eagle to go with four birdies and two bogeys.

Zach Johnson, Cameron Tringale, J.T. Poston, Lee Westwood and Brian Stuard are three under heading into the second round of the PGA Tour tournament.

Former world number one Koepka and fellow star Fowler, however, struggled on day one.

Four-time major champion Koepka shot a woeful first-round 74, which included a triple bogey, a double bogey, two bogeys and three birdies.

Koepka is tied for 103rd at four over alongside the likes of Louis Oosthuizen and Erik van Rooyen, and two shots worse off than Justin Rose.

Defending champion Keith Mitchell is a stroke further back, while Fowler ended the round six over the card following seven bogeys and just one birdie.

Brooks Koepka believes Patrick Reed was fully aware of his actions when he flattened out a bunker to improve his lie during the Hero World Challenge in December, saying he was "building sand castles".

Reed was penalised two strokes for his actions on the 11th hole at the Albany Golf Club in The Bahamas in December, as video footage showed him twice hacking away sand in a bunker during practice swings.

Golf's rules state that players cannot improve their ability to play a shot by "removing or pressing down sand or loose soil".

The American made a bogey but was subsequently handed a two-stroke penalty upon the completion of his round.

After accepting the penalty, Reed defended his actions, insisting he had not intended to move the sand.

However, world number one Koepka is convinced Reed knew what he was doing.

"Yeah. I don't know what he was doing, building sand castles in the sand, but you know where your club is," Koepka said in an interview on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio when asked if Reed had cheated.

"I took three months off and I can promise you I know if I touch sand. If you look at the video, obviously he grazes the sand twice and then he still chops down on it."

"It goes on a little bit more than people think," Koepka added of players improving lies.

"I haven't opened my mouth. But now if I saw it, just because of where I'm at in the game, the stature that I have, I would definitely say something."

Matt Kuchar is two shots clear at the halfway mark of the Genesis Invitational, while Rory McIlroy remains in contention.

Having opened with a 64, Kuchar carded a two-under 69 to move into nine under at the Riviera Country Club in California on Friday.

The American mixed four birdies with two bogeys and sits ahead of McIlroy (67), Harold Varner III (68) and Wyndham Clark (68).

McIlroy, the world number one, produced another fine round, which included six birdies and two bogeys.

The Northern Irishman capitalised on the three par-fives – the first, 11th and 17th holes – by birdieing each.

It is a congested chasing pack, with Sung Kang (67), Adam Scott (64), Vaughn Taylor (67) and Russell Henley (69) tied for fifth at six under.

The 2005 champion and a two-time runner-up, Scott's round was the day's best as the Australian holed seven birdies – including four on his final six holes.

Tiger Woods, whose foundation hosts the tournament, battled to a two-over 73 to fall back to a tie for 45th.

The 15-time major champion is joined at even par by Jordan Spieth (70) and Brooks Koepka (73).

Dustin Johnson is in a far better position after shooting a five-under 66 that lifted him into a share of 11th place alongside nine others, including defending champion J.B. Holmes (69).

Matt Kuchar earned a three-stroke lead after the opening round of the Genesis Invitational, where Tiger Woods started hot but faded.

American golfer Kuchar carded a seven-under-par 64 to set the early pace at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades on Thursday.

Kuchar – who was part of Tiger Woods' triumphant Presidents Cup team in Melbourne in December – is without a solo victory since the 2019 Sony Open in Hawaii more than a year ago.

But Kuchar made a strong start in California, where the nine-time PGA Tour champion was bogey-free as he holed seven birdies to top the leaderboard ahead of Lee Kyoung-hoon, Russell Henley, Wyndham Clark, Adam Schenk and Harold Varner III.

It is a star-studded field for the invitational event – one of only five tournaments given that status by the PGA Tour – and four-time major champion Rory McIlroy is in contention.

World number one McIlroy recorded two eagles, a pair of bogeys and a birdie for a three-under-par 68 on day one.

McIlroy headlines a group of 10 players tied for seventh, including Jason Day and Patrick Reed.

Woods is a stroke further back after the 15-time major winner faltered following a bright start in his pursuit of a maiden Genesis Invitational trophy.

The American superstar made an eagle on his first hole, opening a tournament with an eagle for just the second time since 2003 – the fourth of his career at Riviera.

Woods holed two birdies on a flawless front nine before fading after the turn, with the veteran bogeying twice – including the last for a two-under-par 69.

Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant – who tragically died in a helicopter crash along with his 13-year-old daughter Giannia and seven other victims last month – was honoured around the course.

From a flag in Lakers colours and with Bryant's number eight, to Brooks Koepka sporting headcovers inspired by the five-time NBA champion.

Former world number one Koepka, reigning champion J.B. Holmes and Justin Rose are among the players at two under, while the likes of 2018 winner Dustin Johnson, two-time champion Phil Mickelson, three-time victor Bubba Watson and Jordan Spieth ended the day one over the card.

Rory McIlroy is poised to return to the top of the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) for the first time since 2015, dethroning Brooks Koepka in a situation described as "interesting and rare".

The Northern Irishman will move above Koepka when the next edition of the rankings go live next week, even though both he and the American will not be playing at the Pebble Beach Pro Am, which begins in California on Thursday.

McIlroy has had seven spells as the world number one, though he has not held the position since losing it to Jason Day in September 2015.

Koepka is in his fourth spell at the summit and has been on top since May, the longest streak since Dustin Johnson's 64-week run came to an end in May 2018.

Jon Rahm had the chance to move into first place at last week's Phoenix Open but his finish of joint-ninth was not enough and the Spaniard will also not be playing at Pebble Beach.

McIlroy will leapfrog Koepka because he is losing points at a slower rate in the OWGR system that calculates ranking positions.

The OWGR described the quirk by saying: "The current OWGR situation with Brooks is interesting and rare".

Points are allocated over a two-year period, with the previous 13 weeks holding the highest weighting.

A spokesman added: "He has had two extended periods of injury during the last two years and both are working against his OWGR currently.

"He didn't play between Week 48 of 2017 and Week 18 of 2018 because of a wrist injury, so every time he plays for the next three months will add one to his divisor.

"Most of his competitors will maintain a more or less constant divisor over that period. This means Brooks needs to win relatively approximately 2.5 per cent more points each time he plays to maintain his average. 

"He has not won many points within the last three months, mainly due to not playing because of a knee injury. This means he is losing points because all of is performances are in the period of decay, i.e. older than three months. 

"He is losing points at a greater rate than all the other players."

McIlroy, who won the last of his four majors in 2014, finished in a tie for third at the PGA Tour's Farmers Insurance Open last month.

Koepka, meanwhile, has finished outside the top 10 in his two appearances on the European Tour so far in 2020 and concluded last season earlier than his rival as he struggled with a knee injury.

Victor Perez shot a second straight 65 to take the lead after two rounds at the Saudi International, with Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson falling further off the pace.

Frenchman Perez birdied four of his first nine holes after teeing off at the 10th but cancelled out two further gains with bogeys at the third and sixth.

However, he birdied the last to move to 10 under for the tournament and holds a one-shot lead over Malaysian Gavin Green, who had shared the overnight lead with Graeme McDowell – the Northern Irishman slipping at eight under in third.

"I was very pleased with the second round," said Perez, who led by four strokes at one point. "I think it was important to keep the hammer down after an unexpected 65 in the wind [on Thursday].

"I feel like I've been able to hole some good putts … and it also frees you up, you don't feel like you have to hit the ball really stiff. You feel like you're taking advantage of your opportunities and that's what I've done so far."

Johnson sits at five under in a four-way tie for eighth that includes Henrik Stenson, with three birdies on the back nine helping the American recover after he reached the turn one over par for his round.

Five-time major winner Phil Mickelson added a 70 to his opening 66 to remain four under for the tournament.

World number one Koepka is one under after signing for a 69 that included bogeys at the eighth and 18th.

Patrick Reed, the 2018 Masters champion, missed the cut after an even-par 70 left him at three over.

Sporting stars from across the globe, including Tom Brady and Neymar, have paid tribute to Kobe Bryant after the Los Angeles Lakers icon was killed in a helicopter crash.

Bryant, 41, died on Sunday in a crash close to the city of Calabasas in Los Angeles County, California.

Eight others on board, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, also lost their lives.

Following the initial reports of Bryant's passing, athletes and teams from across the world of sport posted their tributes to the Lakers great on social media.

New England Patriots great Brady wrote on his Twitter page: "We miss you already, Kobe."

Patrick Mahomes, another superstar NFL quarterback, said: "Man, not Kobe. Prayers to his family and friends!"

Bryant was an Olympic champion like Usain Bolt, the great sprinter, who posted a picture of the former NBA star on his page.

"Still can't believe ⁦[it] @kobebryant," he said.

World number one golfer Brooks Koepka posted a lengthy message in memory of his "hero".

"Kobe Bryant was my HERO growing up. Even to this day he was an inspiration to the way I approached things," he wrote, adding: "His mentality motivated me not only in hard times but throughout my whole life. RIP, Kobe."

Footballer Raheem Sterling said: "Rest easy, legend."

Meanwhile, Neymar, who scored twice in Paris Saint-Germain's win over Lille on Sunday, dedicated his second goal to the Lakers legend.

Drew Brees spoke to ESPN from the Pro Bowl, saying of Bryant: "I had the chance to meet him one time. He was a guy I hoped to have the chance to be around more.

"I had so much respect for him as a competitor. I know he inspired so many people in so many different ways.

"He was one of the great competitors of any generation - not just with sports but the way he approached a lot of things with what he was doing now after basketball.

"I pray for him, I pray for his family. It's a tragic loss."

Francesco Laporta shot a sublime nine-under 63 to take a one-shot lead at halfway in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

The 124-ranked Laporta lit up the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club on Friday, birdying six of the last eight holes to move above Matt Fitzpatrick and Rafa Cabrera Bello, .

Laporta charged 49 places on the leaderboard to head into the weekend in the mix for a first European Tour title.

He hit the turn in 33, having made three gains on the front nine of a bogey-free round.

"I just want to enjoy the weekend," said the 29-year-old surprise front-runner, who will tee off on 10 under on Saturday.

"I played solid all 18 holes, my putting was solid, my driver, my irons. 

"I gave myself a lot of opportunities for birdies and so when I had the opportunities, I took them. Every time I was putting for birdie, I made it. It was a great day."

Fitzpatrick had set the clubhouse target with a five-under 67 following four birdies in the last six holes.

The Englishman is bogey-free for the week, sitting in a share of second with Cabrera Bello, who shot a four-under 68.

Cabrera Bello's countryman Sergio Garcia, Li Haotong and Renato Paratore are two shots adrift of Laporta.

Lee Westwood and Louis Oosthuizen are among five players on seven under, while world number one Brooks Koepka slipped back to three under with a three-over 75.

Defending champion Shane Lowry will not be retaining his title after the Open champion missed the cut.

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