Farmingdale, NY- Bethpage Black was abuzz with a full crowd at 8:24 AM. Thursday’s largest crowd is often not on the course so early in the morning. But Tiger Woods is the biggest name in the sport and always draws a following. The crowd was ready to go and watch him work magic starting on the tenth hole. However, attention quickly shifted from Woods to his playing partner and defending PGA Champion: Brooks Koepka. While Tiger double bogeyed the opener, Koepka offered a glimpse into his day with a 40 foot putt from the fringe for a birdie.
The 29 year old West Palm Beach, FL, native did not record a single bogey the entire day. He birdied two more holes on the first nine played, 14 and 18, and continued his excellence on the second half. The former Florida State Seminole added four more birdies on holes 1, 4, 7, and 9. Notably, Koepka rebounded from an awful drive on hole 1 and chipped from the notoriously brutal rough to within four feet for a birdie. The last hole saw Brooks drill a 33’7″ putt for his final birdie to the sound of raucous applause.
He is the first player with multiple rounds of 63 in a major tournament and set the course record. Still, he felt disappointed that he didn’t fare even better.
“I didn’t take care of the par5s, didn’t birdie any of the par-5s. That was disappointing because I felt like you know those are holes you should be able to birdie. Definitely can reach, what is it, 4 and just hit a bad drive there. And then 13 I can get there, too, I just hit it in the bunker. And then the second hole today, my 11th hole, I missed about a five-footer. That would have been nice to shoot 60. I guess that would have been pretty good.”
Still, when Koepka finished up, he was up multiple strokes on the next closest golfer. In his own group, Tiger Woods and Francesco Molinari rode Jekyll and Hyde days and ended the opener +2. Tiger committed double bogeys on 10 and 17 but also recorded the tournament’s first eagle on 4. Molinari was not as chaotic, posting only a pair of bogeys on the back, but still finishing over par after a back-and-forth front.
Only sixteen golfers finished the first round under par, and it appeared Koepka would be unchallenged for the top spot after a record-setting day. 34-year-old Luke List, a Vanderbilt alumnus, looked to be the closest, sitting at -4 until a bogey on 15 and a double bogey on 17 dropped him to -1. He rebounded and closed with a birdie on 18 for a -2 and joined notable names like Chez Reavie, Sung Kang, and Pat Perez in a
28-year-old Englishman Tommy Fleetwood reached a -4 before a pair of bogeys on 5 an 8 dropped him a bit further back. He ended with a birdie on 9 and sat alone in third place at -3.
Koepka appeared solidly alone at -7. That was until 28 year old South Korean native and New Zealand citizen Danny Lee stepped forward and recorded a -3 on the front and got to -5 after 14. He ran into a speed bump on 15, bogeying after a drive to the rough and missing a 24′ putt after recovering. He actually only hit a 50% of fairways off the tee and only 55% of greens in regulation. However, the 2008 US Amateur Champion, and youngest ever winner of that award, putted beautifully and improved his long club accuracy with beautiful drives on 17 and 18. He birdied both holes and walked off the course to a standing ovation with an opening round of 64 (-6).
Lee was acutely aware of Koepka’s excellent opening round. “I wasn’t surprised when Brooks shot -7 this morning. I mean, have you seen him playing U.S. Opens and PGA Championships the last three years? When you’re hitting driver, pitching wedge every hole.”
He’s not new to scraping for what he has, being ranked outside the top 100 (119 to be exact). And knew he’d have to perform well to have a chance. This is not the first time he’s performed well to open a major. He was tied for second after his opening round at the 2016 Masters and sat in third after the opening at the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. He finishes 17th at the Masters in ’16, his best performance in a major so far, and 43rd at the ’15 PGA Championship.
Lee tees off alongside Michael Thompson and Justin Bertsch off the 10th at 6:45 am ET on Friday.
The Koepka, Molinari, Woods group takes the tee at 1:49 pm ET off the front.