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Shane is in with a shot

Koepka believes Lowry is real title contender

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ONE TO WATCH: Brooks Koepka reckons Shane
Lowry is in with a chance of winning the USPGA

ONE TO WATCH: Brooks Koepka reckons Shane Lowry is in with a chance of winning the USPGA

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ONE TO WATCH: Brooks Koepka reckons Shane Lowry is in with a chance of winning the USPGA

Defending champion Brooks Koepka reckons Shane Lowry can upset his hat-trick bid to contend for back-to-back major wins in this week's PGA Championship in San Francisco.

The Floridain is bidding to become the first player to win the same major three times in a row since Peter Thomson did it at The Open in the 1950s.

But while Rory McIlroy will tee it up in a stellar group with Tiger Woods and world No 1 Justin Thomas, Koepka has been drawn with Lowry and US Open champion Gary Woodland and he reckons the reigning Open champion will take some stopping at Harding Park.

"I like Shane," said Koepka, who arrives in San Franciso with his confidence on the rise after finishing second to Thomas in the WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational in Memphis on Sunday.

"He's a funny guy. He's a character. I enjoy playing with him. I played a lot with him at the Floridian during lockdown. Got to play with him and another buddy, Stephen Grant (the former Shamrock Rovers striker, now a Florida-based professional golfer), maybe six, seven times.

"It was fun. I enjoyed the competition, trying to battle into something after being off for three months.

"Shane is a good player. Drives it really well. He hits a tight little draw. Great short game, and he's going to be right there come Sunday."

Former US Open champion Graeme McDowell has also been handed a good draw alongside two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson and young gun Matthew Wolff.

"My game feels like it's in really, really good shape right now," said Koepka.

"I'm excited. This is a big-boy golf course. Got to hit it straight and put it in the fairway. It's going to be quite long. I think it kind of plays into my hands."

Koepka is not losing sleep over having to play behind closed doors.

"It's pretty obvious it's a Major," he shrugged. "It's a big-boy golf course. Tough place. Tough set-up. I mean, I know it, so that's all that matters."

Woods feels the same about playing without fans and while he is lightly raced, the game's ultimate thoroughbred insists he will have no problem focussing when he tees it up with McIlroy and Thomas.

"As far as energy [from fans] while I'm competing and playing, no, that's the same," said Woods, who played with McIlroy and Koepka in the Memorial in his lone start so far this year. "I'm pretty intense when I play and pretty into what I'm doing."

He added: "I don't know if anyone in our generation has ever played without fans in a Major championship. It's going to be very different.

"But it's still a Major championship. It's still the best players in the world.

"And hopefully I can put myself in a position where I can be in that position where I can feel what it feels like to have no fans and also coming down the stretch with a chance to win."

Cool temperatures will make Harding Park a challenge for Woods, who will be trying to equal Jack Nicklaus and Walter Hagen by lifting the Wanamaker Trophy a fifth time.

"I think that for me when it's cooler like this, it's just make sure that my core stays warm, layering up properly," he said.

"Talking to some of the guys yesterday, they were laughing at their TrackMan numbers already. They don't have the swing speed or ball speed they did last week.

"It's just the way it is. It's going to be playing longer."

As for Jon Rahm, the Basque is looking to bounce back to form after losing the world number one ranking to Thomas.

"I assure you that on Sunday, I was more annoyed about how badly I'd played that week than losing the world No 1 spot," Rahm said. "It's as simple as that."