Monday Leaderboard: Brooks Koepka is ready to slow the Scottie Scheffler train

A dominant LIV win and a heartbreaking PGA Tour loss headline this week's top golf stories

(Mallory Bielecki / Yahoo Sports)
(Mallory Bielecki / Yahoo Sports)

Welcome to the Monday Leaderboard, where we run down the weekend’s top stories in the wonderful world of golf. Grab an Arnold Palmer, pull up a chair, and plot how you’re going to qualify for the U.S. Open …

Brooks Koepka won his fourth LIV Golf tournament this past weekend in Singapore, and he sure seems to be rounding into PGA Championship-defending form after an unspectacular T45 at the Masters. Koepka has won more LIV tournaments than anyone else in the young tour’s history, and while it’s easy to mock LIV — which generates far more headlines than fan interest — the simple fact is that Koepka is beating guys like Jon Rahm, Cam Smith and other elite pros when he wins these events.

And Koepka, when he’s in the hunt, is tough to beat. He has five majors, more than any active player not named Phil or Tiger. There was an eight-major stretch prior to the pandemic when he won three times, finished runner-up twice, and finished below seventh only once. That’s domination, and even if he’s not quite back to that level after injuries, he’s still a serious threat to Scottie Scheffler’s domination.

Koepka is interested in exactly one goal: winning majors. Everything else is prelude and training. He doesn’t bother with most of LIV’s trappings — he didn’t even bother to wear team gear at his Smash GC news conference, for instance — and he’s not much for golf’s airy green-cathedral nonsense. He knows exactly how many people are ranked above him on the career majors leaderboard, and that’s his focus.

Scheffler will be the odds-on favorite at the PGA Championship next week. If he stumbles, Koepka — who has three PGAs to Scheffler’s zero — will be right there to step over him.

The 2024 CJ Cup Byron Nelson won’t go down in history as anyone’s favorite tournament … well, except for Taylor Pendrith, who nabbed his first PGA Tour win thanks to a two-shot 72nd-hole swing. Unimaginative course, uninspiring field, awkward name, difficult position on the calendar … everything broke against the CJ Cup, and yet despite all that drama forced its way through. Pendrith let a lead slip away as Ben Kohles mounted a late charge, and Kohles held a one-shot lead on the 18th tee. But a wayward drive, a flubbed chip and a missed par putt cost Kohles dearly on the final hole, the easiest on the course.

Pendrith stayed steady and birdied the par-5 to pull off the two-shot swing and claim his first career victory, which comes with an invitation to the 2024 PGA Championship and the 2025 Masters. Golf gives, and golf takes away.

On the plus side, the CJ Cup Byron Nelson did give us this indelible moment:

LIV players are now in the “find out” section of their decision to jump from the PGA Tour and join the upstart golf league; there’s more money, but fewer pathways to majors.

At the moment, eight players are eligible for the PGA Championship based on prior victories — Koepka and Phil Mickelson, for instance, have lifetime exemptions, while players like Cam Smith and Jon Rahm can trade on recent major victories. As for the Opens later this summer, most LIV players will need to qualify; nearly 40 have announced their plans to attempt to play their way into the U.S. Open and Open Championship.

One who isn’t: 2023 LIV champion Talor Gooch, who did not receive a special invitation into the Masters and isn’t inclined to put himself out there for the other majors, either. Gooch has insisted that the majors lack gravity without LIV players in the field; you can argue with that angle, and with Gooch’s decision not to even attempt to qualify, but he’s sticking to his guns.

Another week, another kid younger than your socks finding success on the PGA Tour. This time around, it’s 16-year-old Kris Kim, son of former LPGA player Ji-Hyun Suh. Kim made the cut at the CJ Cup, the youngest player to do so since Kyle Suppa in 2015. Kim finished at 65th after struggling on the weekend, but he’ll have shots like this one to remember:

Golf’s a tricky game and there are many pitfalls on the way up the mountain, but Kim has a good head start. Plus, golf is now apparently the province of the young. We can expect a kindergartner to make a cut by November.

Sponsor exemptions are the Gentleman’s C of the golf world, a handy perk doled out by tournament organizers to goose interest or, in some cases, reward colleagues. It’s how teen stars and non-golfers like John Smoltz and Steph Curry get invitations into tournaments. One player raising eyebrows at the number of sponsor exemptions he’s received: 227th-ranked Webb Simpson, who has played in multiple signature events this season on sponsor exemptions and is slated to play in another this weekend. Sponsor exemptions into the big-money signature events are valuable commodities, so there are questions as to why Simpson continues to receive them. One possible answer: Simpson is a member of the Tour’s Players Advisory Council and a significant figure in the ongoing schism in the golf world. Golf takes care of its own, regardless of how it might look to the outside world.

Look, Spieth may not be winning a whole lot of majors anymore, but he’s still golf’s agent of chaos, guaranteed to unleash something you’ve never seen before in pretty much every round he plays. Hence, we’ve named this section after him … and you’ll never guess who’s the first honoree.

Yes, that’s Spieth himself, offering up a ball (and a tightly folded bill) to the fan who took an errant Spieth shot off the elbow. The fan’s deflection kicked the ball back into the fairway — good fortune for Spieth, but not good enough, as he missed the cut. At least that bruise lasted through the weekend.

Swing away and roll ‘em true this week, friends, and we’ll see you back here next Monday!