Home Sports Brooks Koepka, Happily in the Shadows, Sets Bethpage Black Record

Brooks Koepka, Happily in the Shadows, Sets Bethpage Black Record

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Brooks Koepka has won three of the last eight major golf championships, including last year’s P.G.A. Championship. He ranks third in the world, he tied for second at this year’s Masters, and he has not shot a round over par since mid-March.

But Thursday, to most fans flocking to the first round of the 2019 Championship at Long Island’s Bethpage State Park Black Course, Koepka was merely one of the guys playing in the same group with the event’s headliner, Tiger Woods.

Koepka did not take it personally.

“Obviously everybody in New York is going to be cheering for Tiger,” he said.

But Koepka was also happy to use the platform that Woods’s presence afforded to defy his afterthought standing.

With a seven-under-par 63 on Thursday, Koepka established a course record on the lengthy, daunting Black Course to take the lead in the event. He was nine strokes ahead of Woods, who was far from the top of the leaderboard with a two-over-par 72.

Perhaps not coincidentally, after his round, Koepka chose to amplify the statement his 63 had made.

“It was great that Tiger won Augusta,” he said of Woods’s inspirational victory at the Masters tournament in April. “But, I mean, we’re at a new week now.”

Tying His Own Record

Brooks Koepka, starting his first round on the 10th hole, finished with a bogey-free round of 63, setting a course record at Bethpage Black and tying the 18-hole P.G.A. Championship record. Koepka, the defending champion, also carded a 63 in the second round last year en route to his title. Greg Norman and Vijay Singh are the only other players to shoot a 63 twice in a major.

Scores for each hole are par unless noted.

Scores for each hole are par unless noted.

Scores for each hole are par unless noted.

By The New York Times

Woods did not need to be reminded that it was now mid-May and that he was not at Augusta National Golf Club, where he feels at home with every shape and contour of the layout. The Black Course punished Woods from his first tee shot, which landed in deep rough and led to a dispiriting opening-hole double bogey.

Erratic throughout the day, Woods looked rusty and out of sync, which was not surprising since his last competitive round was April 14, the final day of the Masters.

Woods, who skipped a planned practice round Wednesday because he was ill, hit only 12 greens in regulation and had 31 putts, an inconsistency that ruined any momentum he built in his second nine, which he opened with back-to-back birdies. Woods, who said he felt fine Thursday, had a chance for three successive birdies but missed a nine-foot putt.

“I missed a few opportunities and just didn’t keep it together at the end,” said Woods, who had an eagle, three birdies, two double bogeys and three bogeys.

More than 15 golfers did what Woods could not Thursday and shot under par, including Danny Lee, who trailed Koepka by only one stroke. Lee, ranked 119th in the world, has never finished higher than 43rd at the P.G.A. Championship but does have three top 10 finishes this season on the PGA Tour. Lee, 28, had seven birdies and two bogeys.

Three strokes behind Lee in third place was England’s Tommy Fleetwood, who has contended in multiple recent majors and shot 67 on Thursday. Other notables under par included Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day, who each shot a one-under 69.

Woods on Thursday denied that his long layoff from competitive golf was a contributing factor in his uneven play. But Koepka, who played in last weekend’s Bryon Nelson PGA Tour event and he shot four rounds in the 60s, certainly looked more prepared than Woods.


Tiger Woods, who had not shot a competitive round since April 14, looked rusty on Thursday. He is nine strokes behind Koepka.CreditBen Solomon for The New York Times

On the fifth hole, for example, Koepka pounded his tee shot 20 yards past Woods and then knocked his approach shot to within 16 feet of the hole. Koepka, who had just 25 putts, then sank one of his seven birdie putts.

Woods landed his 193-yard approach shot to the fifth green 32 feet from the hole and three-putted for bogey.

On display in that sequence was Koepka’s superior length off the tee. But he was also more precise with his iron play to the green and demonstrably more accurate as a putter. It was a trend that continued throughout the first round.

Koepka, who did not have a bogey, continues to prove his mettle in major championship golf, a setting that consistently withers other top golfers.

“He doesn’t seem like he’s even nervous,” said Koepka’s caddie, Ricky Elliott. “I don’t know why that is. It must just be in him.”

Koepka, who has won the last two United States Opens, shrugs when asked how he maintains his equilibrium under pressure in the game’s biggest events.

“I’m just going about my business; you know, you’d love to make it more difficult for them,” Koepka said of his rivals. “It’s always nice being out ahead.”

“Obviously everybody in New York is going to be cheering for Tiger,” Koepka said.CreditBen Solomon for The New York Times

Those chasing him have noticed Koepka’s confidence at golf’s four major championships.

“I think we all know that Brooks does a very good job at majors,” said Fleetwood, who was second at the 2018 U.S. Open, one stroke behind Koepka. “I sure wouldn’t be surprised if he was still there on Sunday. I think when you get to majors, there’s definitely certain names and certain people that you’ve got to beat, and most of the time certain names and people pop up on the leaderboard.

“I think there’s a similarity in the way that some players go about major championships and in the way they get set up for them.”

Fowler suggested that the lengthy Black Course would play to Koepka’s strengths as well.

“The golf course suits him well because he drives the ball well — and far, which shortens some of the really long par 4s here,” Fowler said. “We’ve come to expect this of Brooks in the majors. It’s no surprise.”

Woods was equally impressed by Koepka on Thursday.

“I think 63 was the highest score he could have shot today,” Woods said. “It could have been a few shots better.”

Koepka agreed. In some respects, he said, he was disappointed in his round, which tied the record low 18-hole score at the event.

“That’s one of the best rounds I’ve played as a professional,” he said. “But I didn’t birdie any of the par 5s. Those are holes you should be able to birdie.

“That would have been nice to shoot 60. I guess that would have been pretty good.”