Koepka riding the major wave

Matt Cooper
Rotoworld
Brooks Koepka thrashed a superb 7-under-par 63 to claim the first round lead in the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. (Getty Images)

Koepka riding the major wave

Brooks Koepka thrashed a superb 7-under-par 63 to claim the first round lead in the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. (Getty Images)

Recap of the day

Morning wave: “The Black Course is an extremely difficult course which we recommend only for highly skilled golfers,” says the sign on the first tee. No-one told Brooks Koepka that, however. He posted a sensational bogey-free 7-under-par 63, not only flattening the morning wave he played with, but also piling the pressure on those aware of his score before they had even hit the first tee box. Tommy Fleetwood signed a card which, had you told him the total on Wednesday night, he might have supposed would have him possibly in the lead, but surely no further than two back. However, his 67 had him four adrift. Mike Lorenzo-Vera, Chez Reavie and Luke List chipped away to shoot 68 for T3 in the clubhouse. 

Afternoon wave: For a long while it looked as if Koepka would set a new record for the first round lead (currently three shots), but then Danny Lee, in conditions that were more blustery than the leader experienced, carded a magnificent 64 to get within one. No-one else could even equal Tommy Fleetwood. Last week’s winner Sung Kang and Pat Perez fashioned 68s to create a five-way tie for fourth.

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Leaderboard: -7 Brooks Koepka, -6 Danny Lee, -3 Tommy Fleetwood, -2 Mike Lorenzo-Vera, Chez Reavie, Luke List, Sung Kang, Pat Perez

Notables: -1 Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Patrick Cantlay, E Justin Rose, Xander Schauffele, Jon Rahm, Tony Finau, +1 Adam Scott, +2 Francesco Molinari, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, +4 Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed

 

Revised outright betting: Koepka 6/4, D. Johnson 11/1, Fleetwood 12/1, Fowler 20/1, Day 22/1, Rahm 25/1

 

Friday weather forecast

A predicted wind of 12mph which is expected to be as breezy as it gets all week in Farmingdale. Morning showers are a 40% possibility with temperatures in the low 60s.

 

Leaders after at 18 holes

Brooks Koepka (63) – The defending champion became the first golfer to strike 63 in consecutive PGA Championships and it was an exemplary round which witnessed birdies from 40’1” at the tenth, 19’7” at the 14th, 5’9” at the 18th, 3’8” at the first, 12’9” at the third, 16’0” at the fifth and 33’7” at the ninth. He missed four greens, saved par every time and the field will be breathing a sigh of relief that he only made regulation numbers at the two par-5s.

Danny Lee (64) – A neatly balanced card which saw four birdies and one bogey on each nine. A good effort when finding only 7-for-14 fairways and 10-of-18 greens in regulation. It helped that he dropped 1.300 putts per GIR.

Tommy Fleetwood (67) – Missed five greens and saved par twice, but otherwise a good day’s work and he reported that the virus of last week has cleared. Four of his six birdies were from inside six feet.

 

Fate of the favorites

Dustin Johnson (69) – Stumbled to just 8-of-14 fairways, placing him mid-field in the rankings, but in landing 15-of-18 greens in regulation he was in elite company. However, the putts refused to drop.

Brooks Koepka – see above

Rory McIlroy (72) – Missed the first fairway, chunked his approach, made bogey and there was no real respite thereafter until a birdie at the last to atone for a total of three bogeys. He landed 15 greens, but averaged 2.000 putts per each one.

Tiger Woods (72) – A day of three phases for the Masters champion. His first nine (the back) witnessed two double bogeys and a birdie to turn in 3-over. He was brilliant for four holes after the turn (two birdies and a 31’3” eagle-3 at the fourth), but then lurched home with another three bogeys.

 

Quotes

Tommy Fleetwood (67) - “It's a little more forgiving than the practice days have been and it felt like there were a few chances today, but overall, still a brutal golf course and as soon as you're out of position you're going to struggle.”

Mike Lorenzo-Vera (68) – “If you don't catch the fairway, bye-bye. Maintaining this is going to be very difficult. If I continue playing like that, I'm going to sleep less and less, shake more and more.”

Rickie Fowler (69) – “I would say no lead is really safe here. You start hitting it sideways or you get out of position, you can make bogeys and doubles very quickly.”

Tiger Woods (72) – “I wasn't feeling that good yesterday, got a little bit sick, so I decided to stay home. It's not that hard to make bogeys out here, but it's hard to make birdies.”

Brooks Koepka (63) - “That was one of the best rounds I've played as a professional. This golf course is brutal. You've got to drive the ball straight. It's long, so you've got to hit it far and really position yourself with some of these shots in. It reminds me, I think this is why I play so well in them, it’s a typical U.S. Open golf course.”

Danny Lee (64) – “I wasn't hitting it far enough to compete in the majors, but now I'm definitely hitting it further. I can carry my driver about 290, 295 in the air. That's a huge bonus for me. This is actually the first time I’ve got to play in a major with this distance. I'm interested to see what I can do out there.”

Pat Perez (68) – “Best Poa I've ever seen. It's incredible. This is like Torrey when you got it in the early morning. They've done a phenomenal job with this course.”

Rory McIlroy (72) - “All I do is concentrate on myself. I've been out here long enough to know that a first round score is just a first round score. The golf course is hard enough without looking at other people. I'm just trying to do my own thing.”

 

Road to victory in the PGA Championship

2018 Brooks Koepka – R1: 33rd, R2: 3rd, R3: 1st

2017 Justin Thomas – R1: 44th, R2: 7th, R3: 4th

2016 Jimmy Walker – R1: 1st, R2: 1st, R3: 1st

2015 Jason Day – R1: 3rd, R2: 2nd, R3: 1st

2014 Rory McIlroy – R1: 4th, R2: 1st, R3: 1st

Notes: The last two champions made slow starts and it’s far from uncommon in this event. In fact, of the last 12 winners only four were inside the top ten after 18 holes. A total of six were outside the top 20 and five of those outside the top 30. Bizarrely three of them were T44th.

Extra notes: We have, of course, seen two U.S. Opens and two Barclays tournaments at Bethpage Black. In complete contrast to PGA Championship trends this course has favored front runners. In the 2002 U.S. Open Tiger Woods went wire-to-wire, the two Barclays winners (Nick Watney and Patrick Reed) were in the top two all week and 2009 U.S. Open winner Lucas Glover was T7 after the first round, but top two after 36 and 54 holes.

 

Fate of the halfway leaders in the PGA Championship – where did they finish?

2018 – Gary Woodland 6th

2017 – Kevin Kisner 7th, Thorbjorn Olesen 44th

2016 – Jimmy Walker 1st

2015 – Dustin Johnson 7th

2014 – Ryan Palmer 5th, Kevin Chappell 13th, Lee Westwood 15th

Notes: Tiger Woods opened the 21st century by going wire-to-wire in this event, but since then only two golfers have repeated the feat, Phil Mickelson in 2005 and Jimmy Walker 2016. A total of 33 players have held or shared the lead since 2000, 17 of them finished the week outside the top ten, seven of those outside the top 40.

 

Focus on – Moving Day comes early

As noted above, many recent champions of this tournament have made slow starts which makes it none too surprising that there is a related trend of those same players going low on Friday (they didn’t have much choice). Here’s what happened to the last 12 winners in round two:

2018 Brooks Koepka 33rd to 3rd (69-63)

2017 Justin Thomas 44th to 7th (73-66)

2016 Jimmy Walker 1st to 1st (65-66)

2015 Jason Day 3rd to 2nd (68-67)

2014 Rory McIlroy 4th to 1st (66-67)

2013 Jason Dufner 11th to 1st (68-63)

2012 Rory McIlroy 2nd to 5th (67-75)

2011 Keegan Bradley 36th to 1st (71-64)

2010 Martin Kaymer 44th to 15th (72-68)

2009 Y.E. Yang 44th to 9th (73-70)

2008 Padraig Harrington 16th to 26th (71-74)

2007 Tiger Woods 23rd to 1st (71-63)

So, of the 12, eight shot 67 or lower which includes one 64 and three 63s. The average score of the 12 was 67.17 and the average move up the leaderboard 15.75 positions.

 

Focus on – Brooks Koepka in the majors

The 29-year-old’s remarkable major championship record is well-known, but bears repeating. He’s made 21 starts, has 15 top 25s, nine top tens and three wins. That’s even better when you consider that he missed his first two cuts and was T70 in his third start. But in recent times his consistency is even more impressive. Here are his end-of-round positions in his last ten majors (this week included):

2019 PGA – 1st

2019 Mast – 1st – 1st – 4th – 2nd

2018 PGA – 33rd – 3rd – 1st – 1st

2018 Open - 50th - 18th - 61st - 39th

2018 US O – 46th – 4th – 1st – 1st

2017 PGA – 3rd – 11th – 26th – 13th

2017 Open – 1st – 3rd – 3rd – 6th

2017 US O – 4th – 1st – 2nd – 1st

2017 Mast - 26th - 19th – 21st - 11th

2016 PGA – 9th – 6th – 3rd – 4th

So in 28 of 37 end-of-rounds he was inside the top 20 and 24 times he was top ten. (Note that there have been eight 63s in the first round of majors prior to this week and only twice has the man responsible completed the win. Koepka will aim to make it 3-for-9.)

 

Focus on – Sung Kang

The Korean, T4 after a 68, won last week’s AT&T Trinity Forest, carding a course record 61 in round two. He has previous at Bethpage Black too. In fact, he shares the course record after shooting a final round 64 when T18 in 2016’s The Barclays.

 

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