PGA Championship 2019

Koepka just doing 'his business'

From right: Tiger Woods driving off from the 15th tee at the Bethpage Black course, watched by Brooks Koepka and Francesco Molinari during the first round of the 2019 PGA Championship on Thursday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
From right: Tiger Woods driving off from the 15th tee at the Bethpage Black course, watched by Brooks Koepka and Francesco Molinari during the first round of the 2019 PGA Championship on Thursday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Defending champion leads by one shot with course-record 63; Woods struggles with a 72

NEW YORK • Brooks Koepka is world No. 3, has won three of the past seven Majors, including two US Opens, and has not shot an over-par round since mid-March.

But the defending champion was merely one of the guys to most fans who flocked to this year's PGA Championship to see the headline act, Tiger Woods, at Long Island's Bethpage State Park Black Course.

Koepka did not take it personally. "Obviously, everybody in New York is going to be cheering for Tiger," the 29-year-old said on Thursday.

He was happy to use the platform his flight-mate's presence afforded to defy his afterthought status.

With a course record of seven-under 63, he took the first-round lead in the year's second Major.

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

Asked how he maintains his equilibrium under pressure in the sport's biggest events, he said: "I'm just going about my business; you know, you'd love to make it more difficult for them (his rivals). It's always nice being out ahead.

"That's one of the best rounds I've played as a pro. But I didn't birdie any of the par fives. Those are holes you should be able to birdie.

  • LEADERBOARD

  • 1ST ROUND (selected, USA unless stated) 

    63 Brooks Koepka 

    64 Danny Lee (Nzl) 

    67 Tommy Fleetwood (Eng) 

    68 Mike Lorenzo-Vera (Fra), Chez Reavie, Luke List , Kang Sung-hoon (Kor), Pat Perez 

    69 Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Jason Day (Aus), Kim Si-woo (Kor)

    70 Justin Rose (Eng), Xander Schauffele, Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Jon Rahm (Esp), Jazz Janewattananond (Tha)

    71 Adam Scott (Aus)

    72 Francesco Molinari (Ita), Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy (Nir),

    73 Li Haotong (Chn)

    74 Sergio Garcia (Esp)

    76 Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha) 78 Pan Cheng-tsung (Tpe)

    AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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

He was nine strokes ahead of Woods, who was far from the top of the leaderboard with a 72, as was flight-mate and British Open winner Francesco Molinari of Italy.

Perhaps not coincidentally, following his round, Koepka chose to amplify the statement of his 63.

Of Woods' inspirational victory at the Masters last month, when he was probably the forgotten joint runner-up, he said: "It was great that Tiger won Augusta. But, I mean, we're at a new week now."

Woods needed no reminders that it is now mid-May and he is not at Augusta National Golf Club, where he feels at home with every shape and contour of the layout.

The lengthy Black Course punished the American from his first tee shot, which landed in deep rough and led to a dispiriting opening double-bogey.

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

Woods, who skipped a planned practice round on Wednesday because he was ill, hit only 12 greens in regulation and had 31 putts - an inconsistency that ruined any momentum when he opened with back-to-back birdies on the second nine. He said: "I missed a few opportunities and just didn't keep it together at the end."

More than 15 golfers did what Woods could not and shot under par, among them Danny Lee, who trailed Koepka by one stroke on 64.

The South Korean-born New Zealander, 119th in the world, has never finished higher than 43rd at the PGA Championship but has three top-10 finishes this season on the PGA Tour.

England's Tommy Fleetwood was third on 67 while other notables included Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day, who all shot 69.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2019, with the headline 'Koepka just doing 'his business''. Print Edition | Subscribe