FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – A fire-breathing Brooks Koepka scorched Bethpage Black in round one of the PGA Championship with a 7-under 63, taking a one-shot lead over New Zealand’s Danny Lee. England’s Tommy Fleetwood is in third place, four shots back at 3 under.
The rest of the field needs binoculars to see Koepka.
The defending PGA champion and the reigning back-to-back U.S. Open champion, Koepka tied or set a barrel-full of records today:
- lowest round ever at Bethpage Black
- lowest round ever in the PGA Championship (tied, with 15 other players)
- first person to ever card two 63s in the PGA Championship
to name a few.
He was the only player all day to sign a clean card – a seven-birdies, no-bogeys gem. And he laid low some of Bethpage Black’s most fearsome holes, including Nos. five and 10, two of the most bloodthirsty par 4s in major championship golf.
Starting on the back nine, Koepka opened the tournament with a cannon shot, a 328-yard bomb of a drive that set the tone for the day. A heat-seeking 195-yard 5-iron left him on the fringe about 25 feet away. That set the stage for what Koepka called the defining moment of the day, Tracking all the way, his putt tumbled into the cup for an opening birdie, and Koepka never looked back.
“That putt on No. 10,” he explained, recalling the shot with “to get off to that good of a start. It’s not really a birdie hole.”
When the defining moment of the round comes at the first hole, the rest of the field better start pulling out rosary beads and saying novenas.
Moreover, that hole is the third-most difficult on the golf course, a behemoth of a par 4 so long and treacherous that players have difficulty even reaching the fairway off the tee. Almost half of the golfers in the field over the last nine major championship rounds card bogey or worse. To Koepka it was just a fuse with which to ignite the round.
He picked up a second birdie at the diminutive 14th, then birdied 18 and one back-to-back. Another birdie rang up on the scoreboard at the brawny 240-yard par-3 third, Bethpage’s toughest short hole. Koepka then reached the iconic fifth hole, Tillinghast’s heroic masterpiece and, perhaps, the most quintessential hole on the course: a 478-ard gauntlet of trees, deep bunkers and thick rough.
By now Bethpage Black was waving the white flag, ringing the bells of surrender. But Brooks was having none of that. He closed the round with as much style and dominance as he opened it: a 45-foot bomb across the ninth green that touched off a celebration that reverberated all across Long Island.
What does that warning sign say again? Something about an extremely difficult golf course intended for experts only?
Poor Bethpage. Brooks is ruining its reputation with every passing hole.
It had to feel doubly satisfying since Tiger Woods and Francesco Molinari could only watch helplessly as he raced away from them. Playing alongside Koepka, the reigning Masters and British Open champions each finished a dismal nine shots back at 2 over. Sure Woods had three birdies and an eagle. But looking every bit of 43 rickety years, his two double bogeys (including one at the 10th and another at the par-3 17th) and three bogeys left Tiger in a tie for 51st place with Francesco and 24 other players.
They were marching on the ground. Koepka was soaring over head.
Even he agreed that not many players are left with a chance to challenge him, just as he predicted Tuesday afternoon.
“I wouldn’t say there’s many guys. That was one of my best rounds I’ve played probably as a professional….You can’t miss, you can’t take a shot off, and that’s what I love,” he opined. “I think that’s why I play so well at U.S. Opens."
The factual reason why he plays so well at all majors is a lethal combination of ICBMs for drives, lasers for approaches and a putting stroke so cool, he could encase Han Solo in carbonite twice as fast as Boba Fett ever did. His average driving distance for the entire day was a bloated 298.5 (14th in the field), and better still his driving accuracy was equally strong: 9 of 14 (64%). He hit 14 greens (T-8) and took only 25 putts (T-8). He was in zero bunkers today.
He looks and feels invincible, unconquerable.
In the least aware moment of the day, poor Rickie Fowler, who carded a decent 1-under 69, was asked in his post-round presser “Come Sunday, how close do you think you have to be to Brooks to have a reasonable chance?”
”What makes you think he's going to be leading?”
Other than the seven birdies today? The 300-yard driving average? The ice in his veins? How about three major victories (and a runner-up) in his past seven starts, 11 top-15 finishes in his last 13 majors, nine top-10s in that span, and a four-shot lead over everyone except one unproven guy? Is that enough, Rickie? It should be. Even Woods had to marvel at Koepka’s start to finish dominance.
“I think that was probably the highest score he could have shot today. He left a few out there with a couple putts that he missed. But it could have easily been a couple better,” Woods noted, raising his eyes in respect.
Sure, in golf, no lead is really safe. You start hitting it sideways or you get out of position, things can go different ways quickly. You can make bogeys really quickly. But with just a single water hazard that really isn’t in play, doubles shouldn’t manifest themselves.
Right now, it’s Brooks’s world. We all just live in it. He knows it. He pridefully boasted on Tuesday that he thinks he’ll finish his career with a double digit-sized collection of major championships. Right now, who’s going to argue with him? You?