At this point, it’d be more surprising if Brooks Koepka didn’t have a share of the lead at a major.
Since last year’s Open Championship, Koepka has gone 1-T2-1-2 — there have been two PGA Championships thanks to a schedule change, and he has won them both — and after a sterling first round on Thursday, Koepka shot a three-under 68 to put himself in the conversation for another big finish.
He held a share of the lead for a fair share of his round, and only a late bogey kept Koepka from carrying the lead into Friday.
This isn’t even fair anymore. This is the Hulk entering a barroom arm-wrestling contest, Beyonce doing Wednesday-night karaoke. Koepka’s an absolute force right now, and if he walks away from this run without at least two more majors, it’ll be a shock.
With weather ranging from sunshine to sideways rain, Koepka banged out two birdies in the first five holes to set the tone, then chased down clubhouse leader Shane Lowry (minus-4) with two more birdies on Nos. 12 and 14. Koepka didn’t really face any strife until the 17th, when his tee shot drifted into the thick grass and gorse to the left of the fairway. He muscled it out of the muck but couldn’t save par, his only bogey of the afternoon.
Koepka, who joked earlier in the week that he doesn’t practice, played Royal Portrush with a secret weapon: his caddie Ricky Elliott, who grew up in Portrush and knows this course well. It’s almost unfair, giving Koepka that kind of edge, but he took full advantage.
“We come up with a game plan. Obviously the game plan’s pretty concrete since [Elliot’s] played it so many times. It’s actually quite easy,” Koepka said. “I actually don’t have to do much thinking. I just go out and play.”
Even as Koepka flourished, his chief recent rivals foundered. Gary Woodland, who edged him out for the U.S. Open, finished with a plus-3, and Tiger Woods, who beat him in the Masters, was at plus-4 out on the course when Koepka finished up.
Koepka’s not invulnerable. He can be beaten by someone having the tournament of his life. But he’s relentless, a Terminator in Nike gear, and he’ll almost surely be part of this tournament’s story come Sunday afternoon.
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