In many ways, day one at Bethpage Black was a predictable affair as the brawn of Brooks Koepka battered the field into submission at the year’s second Major, the PGA Championship in New York’s Long Island.
While the pre-tournament spotlight hovered above Tiger Woods, biding his time in the shadows was the 29-year old Koepka who knew it was only a matter of time before he shared the stage with Woods, with the pair grouped together for an early start.
Although the bookies respected Koepka’s place atop the pecking order, maybe it was a lack of media attention that stoked a fire inside Brooks as a booming power-fade down the first signalled the American’s intent to lay down a marker as Molinari snap-hooked left and Woods flailed right. Tiger made double. Molinari a bogey. Koepka sank a 40-footer for a birdie 3.
Four and a half hours later, Koepka walked off the course after firing a bogey-free seven-under par 63 to open his account and with it, the fate of the tournament already lays at his mercy. We shouldn’t be surprised.
Since 2017 at the Majors, Koepka has led the field in strokes gained per round (3.09), birdies and eagles accumulated (153), rounds having led or co-led (10), score to par (-53) and scoring average (69.4).
He has quickly become the dominant force in Major championship golf having won three titles since 2017 while he very-nearly upset the applecart before finishing second as Tiger claimed a 15th at this year’s Masters.
“I don’t see why you can’t get to double digits,” said a confident Koepka pre-tournament when asked how many Majors he might win in his career.
“156 in the field, so you figure at least 80 of them I’m just going to beat,” said Koepka.
“From there, about half of them won’t play well, so you’re down to about maybe 35. And then from 35, some of them just, pressure is going to get to them. It only leaves you with a few more, and you’ve just got to beat those guys.
“I think one of the big things that I’ve learned over the last few years is you don’t need to win it, you don’t have to try to go win it. Just hang around. If you hang around, good things are going to happen.”
If shooting a first round 63 isn’t Koepka trying to win it, God help us all but after an opening display packed with power, precision and poise, it’s going to take a mammoth effort from the chasing pack to grind down the leader. So, who’s capable?
The first 425 words of this article may be deemed quite disrespectful as just one shot back of Koepka’s lead sits Kiwi, Danny Lee who shot the lights out with a 64 in even tougher conditions than the leader faced.
Although just one behind, the New Zealander has seen bright starts to Majors turn to darkness just as fast having shot 68-77 on the first two days of the 2015 US Open at Whistling Straits while he went 68-74 at the Masters in 2016.
What’s in his favour, however, is that Lee is smashing the ball further than ever, carrying his driver 295-300 yards with accuracy and length vital around the New York layout. What’s more, he’s playing with a perspective that he went without during previous Major blow-ups having contemplated a career change after a serious back injury in 2017.
“I felt something on my back, and the only place I could go was lying on the ground,” he said. “The next morning when I got up from my bed, I could not move my legs. I never had that kind of injury before, so I was freaking out and was telling my wife, ‘OK, are we going to open up a Korean barbecue restaurant now?’ And she’s like, ‘Hell no.’ ”
With his back injuries behind him, pardon the pun, Lee was certainly sizzling on day one.
To the untrained eye, the two out in front look a tall order to catch already but trouble lurks around every bend at Bethpage Black.
“WARNING,” reads the sign on the first tee. “The Black Course Is An Extremely Difficult Course Which We Recommend Only For Highly Skilled Golfers.”
Luckily for us, there’s many such talents on the first page of the board who can’t be discounted.
Tommy Fleetwood leads the best of the rest at three-under par as his consistency shone through once more on the main stage while the group at one-under is arguably most interesting, with world number one Dusting Johnson ambling with intent despite seemingly not getting out of first gear on day one.
Jordan Spieth looks to have rediscovered some form with the short stick that once ended lives on the golf course and if he can keep the ball in play (he’s currently ranked outside the top-200 in the world in driving accuracy) then he could be a Major contender once more. Jason Day looks to be injury free and swinging well at minus-one while the immortal Mickelson continues to get it round to the acclaim of his adoring fans.
Indeed, they’re queuing up in behind, albeit having given the leader a generous head-start, but with 54-holes of golf still to play, anything can happen. However, if Brooks is to go low again tonight, the only man in the field capable of catching him might just be John Daly in his golf cart!
Irish tee-times (Irish time)
12.40pm – Padraig Harrington (+5)
13.13 – Rory McIlroy (+2)
17.54 – Shane Lowry (+5)
18.16 – Graeme McDowell (even)
Full Scoring HERE