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A rivalry lost to LIV: Brooks vs. Bryson isn’t the fireworks show it used to be

PITTSFORD, N.Y. – Two years ago, this pairing would have melted the internet.

Brooks Koepka versus Bryson DeChambeau.

“Brooksy” versus, well, “Brooksy”.

Full-field scores from the PGA Championship

The tension that defined the summer of 2021 has almost completely been defused. Nine-figure signing bonuses will do that. Injuries and slumps will, too.

Asked to explain their dynamic these days, two years after Koepka’s Eye Roll Seen ’Round the World, DeChambeau said: “We have a common goal, the growth of the game. We have franchises to focus on and good golf to play.”

But the fans here at Oak Hill had little trouble reminding the two mega-stars of their pecking order. Koepka was robustly cheered as he started his third round of the PGA Championship. DeChambeau was so aggressively booed that CBS’ Jim Nantz seemed shook.

“Not a warm welcome,” Nantz said. “I’ve never heard that, for that matter, at any point back to last summer.”

It’s tempting to examine how much has changed in their lives and careers since the 2021 PGA. The body breakdowns. The heated rhetoric. The tour loyalties. But just as telling is how much feels the same, especially as it relates to Koepka.

It isn’t just that Koepka has snagged the 54-hole lead here at beastly Oak Hill, where he is gunning for his fifth major title and can reclaim his position as the best player of the post-Tiger generation.

It’s how he has done it, with his trademark brand of smart, calculating, punishing golf. Fairways. Smart-side approaches. Perfect speed on the greens. No unnecessary risks. For the second consecutive day, he shot the low round, a 4-under 66, and now he leads by a shot over major-less Viktor Hovland and Corey Conners.

Throughout his Hall of Fame career, Koepka has never possessed the explosiveness of Rory McIlroy, or the theatrics of Jordan Spieth. He never could muster the passion of Jon Rahm, or the shot-making flair of Justin Thomas.

And yet Koepka has been – by far – the best performer in the major championships over the past six years, as predictable as nasty western New York weather in May. On Sunday, he has a chance to become just the seventh player to hoist five major titles by the age of 34, and the first since Woods.

“Just got to go out and play good tomorrow,” Koepka sniffed.

And that part was familiar, too.

The Netflix documentary may have shown a different side of him – more open, more vulnerable. Koepka says, honestly, that’s what he’s really like away from the course.

In this setting, at least, it’s just hard to fathom it.

He’s morphed back into Terminator mode. Once again, he walks with that familiar strut: shoulders back, chest out, chin up. He doesn’t say much to caddie Ricky Elliott, nor to his playing partners. It’s all business, all the time.

“How’d that much-anticipation pairing go with Bryson?” he was asked.

“I shot 4 under,” he said, “so you tell me.”

Indeed, the emotional accessibility that Koepka showed for the cameras at home tends to slam shut during the majors. In the press tent, he can be terse and dismissive, conscious not to show any weakness, lest his peers, somewhere, are watching.

That was never DeChambeau’s deal. He always wanted to be liked, if not loved; he’s thriving this week in part because his resurgent form has returned to the spotlight. He’s missed it.

Koepka would always rather be respected. Feared, even.

Their contrast made them such perfect adversaries – the Brains and the Bully – but that open hostility has forever been lost to LIV.

Head-to-head Saturday for the first time in a major since 2016, Koepka got the upper hand again – as he has done for much of his career – but if he felt any extra satisfaction with the 66-70 victory, he kept it to himself.

“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t pay too much attention to who I’m playing with,” Koepka said. “I’m more focused on what I have to do. There’s a lot of other things to have to worry about.”

At the height of their pettiness, in summer 2021, DeChambeau poked fun at his opponent’s physique, and Koepka responded with a photo of his major trophy case with the caption: “2 short of a 6 pack.”

Another title Sunday would taste plenty sweet – and not just because it came at his frenemy’s expense.