Bethpage – Defending champion Brooks Koepka fired a bogey-free seven-under par 63 to seize a one-stroke clubhouse lead in Thursday’s opening round of the PGA Championship, while Tiger Woods struggled.
Third-ranked Koepka, seeking his fourth major title, closed with a 33-foot birdie putt at Bethpage Black’s ninth hole to set a course record and match the lowest round in tournament history.
It was the second 63 in as many years at a PGA Championship for the 29-year-old American, who joined Australian Greg Norman and Fiji’s Vijay Singh as the only players to shoot so low twice in majors.
“That was one of the best rounds I’ve played probably as a professional,” said Koepka, who turned pro in 2012.
“My putter was hot today. It hasn’t felt that good in a long time. This was a crazy day, seven-under, it’s not going to happen every day.”
New Zealand’s Danny Lee, among the first afternoon starters to finish, made seven birdies to shoot a 64 and closed with back-to-back birdies to grab second in the clubhouse.
“My game was very good today,” Lee said.
Tommy Fleetwood, trying to become the first Englishman to win the PGA since Jim Barnes in 1919, shot 67 to stand third, one stroke ahead of France’s Mike Lorenzo-Vera and Americans Luke List and Chez Reavie.
Koepka edged Fleetwood by one stroke to win last year’s US Open at Shinnecock, only 60 miles (96km) east of Bethpage Black.
Both Koepka and playing partner Woods said his round could have been the best in major history, surpassing the 62 fired by South Africa’s Branden Grace at Royal Birkdale in the 2017 British Open.
“I parred both par-5s and missed a couple of eight-footers for birdie,” Koepka said. “It could have been a hell of a round.”
Koepka, who began on the back nine, holed a 40-foot birdie putt at 10 and sank a 20-foot birdie putt at the par-3 14th.
He charged with four birdies in six holes before sinking a 10-footer to save par at the sixth ahead of his closing heroics.
“He played well,” Woods said. “That was probably the highest score he could have shot out there. He left a few out there. He could easily have been a couple better.
“I wasn’t as close as I would have liked to have been for sure.”
Sixth-ranked Woods, coming off his stunning 15th major victory in last month’s Masters, endured a nightmare day, signing for a two-over 72, after snapping an 11-year major drought 33 days ago in his prior competitive round.
On the same course where he won the 2002 US Open, Woods opened with a double bogey at 10 after finding rough, laying up and blasting over the green. He answered with a birdie at 15 but double-bogeyed the par-3 17th after finding sand off the tee.
“The golf course is playing tough,” Woods said. “It’s not that hard to make bogeys out there but it’s hard to make birdies.”
Woods fought back with birdies at the first and second holes, then curled in a 30-foot eagle putt to make the crowd roar.
But par misses from inside 10 feet at the fifth, seventh and the par-3 eighth doomed his fightback.
“Fought my way back and got it under par for the day,” Woods said. “Let it slip with a couple of mistakes and a couple of bad putts at the end.”
A victory would match Woods with Sam Snead for the all-time record of 82 US PGA Tour titles and move him two shy of the major record of 18 held by Jack Nicklaus — as well as put him halfway to a calendar Grand Slam for the first time since 2002.
It was the first PGA Championship played in May since 1949, moving from August this year in a revamp of the global golf schedule.
American John Daly, hampered by right knee arthritis, used a cart after an appeal under the Americans with Disabilities Act. He’s the first player to use a cart in a major since Casey Martin at the 2012 US Open.
Koepka, who seeks a third consecutive US Open title next month at Pebble Beach, could overtake Dustin Johnson for the world number one ranking with a victory and would become the first golfer to own back-to-back titles at two majors simultaneously.
Scores after Thursday’s opening round of the 101st PGA Championship at par-70 Bethpage Black:
63 – Brooks Koepka (USA)
64 – Danny Lee (NZL)
67 – Tommy Fleetwood (ENG)
68 – Mike Lorenzo-Vera (FRA), Chez Reavie (USA), Luke List (USA), Kang Sung (KOR), Pat Perez (USA)
69 – Rickie Fowler (USA), Matt Wallace (ENG), Dustin Johnson (USA), Jordan Spieth (USA), Patrick Cantlay (USA), Phil Mickelson (USA), Jason Day (AUS), Kim Si-woo (KOR)
70 – Sam Burns (USA), Jason Caron (USA), Patton Kizzire (USA), Max Homa (USA), David Lipsky (USA), Jimmy Walker (USA), Erik Van Rooyen (RSA), Graeme McDowell (NIR), Louis Oosthuizen (RSA), Justin Rose (ENG), Xander Schauffele (USA), Hideki Matsuyama (JPN), Aaron Wise (USA), Ryan Vermeer (USA), Joel Dahmen (USA), Daniel Berger (USA), Paul Casey (ENG), Tony Finau (USA), Billy Horschel (USA), Gary Woodland (USA), Keegan Bradley (USA), Jon Rahm (ESP), Matt Kuchar (USA), Jazz Janewattananond (THA)
71 – Harold Varner (USA), Kyle Stanley (USA), Kelly Kraft (USA), Adam Scott (AUS), Tyrrell Hatton (ENG), Im Sung-jai (KOR), J.B. Holmes (USA), Lucas Bjerregaard (DEN), Danny Willett (ENG), Zach Johnson (USA)
72 – Beau Hossler (USA), J.J. Spaun (USA), Scott Piercy (USA), Richy Werenski (USA), Adam Hadwin (CAN), Russell Knox (SCO), Charles Howell (USA), Francesco Molinari (ITA), Tiger Woods (USA), Julian Suri (USA), Marty Jertson (USA), Troy Merritt (USA), Joost Luiten (NED), Cameron Champ (USA), Lucas Glover (USA), Ian Poulter (ENG), Kevin Na (USA), Bryson DeChambeau (USA), Webb Simpson (USA), Rory McIlroy (NIR), Corey Conners (CAN), Chesson Hadley (USA), Tyler Hall (USA)
73 – Li Haotong (CHN), Charley Hoffman (USA), Shaun Norris (RSA), Alex Noren (SWE), Abraham Ancer (MEX), Adam Long (USA), Adrian Otaegui (ESP), Jason Kokrak (USA), Branden Grace (RSA), Ryan Moore (USA), Thorbjorn Olesen (DEN), Steve Stricker (USA), Satoshi Kodaira (JPN), Kevin Tway (USA), Bronson Burgoon (USA), Cameron Smith (AUS), Jim Furyk (USA)
74 – Keith Mitchell (USA), Ben Cook (USA), An Byeong-hun (KOR), Andrew Putnam (USA), Justin Harding (RSA), Thomas Pieters (BEL), Brandt Snedeker (USA), Henrik Stenson (SWE), Sergio Garcia (ESP), Patrick Reed (USA), Shugo Imahira (JPN), Lucas Herbert (AUS), Cory Schneider (USA), Brian Mackey (USA), Ross Fisher (ENG), Martin Kaymer (GER), Ryan Armour (USA), Marc Leishman (AUS), Michael Kim (USA), Kurt Kitayama (USA), Mikko Korhonen (FIN)
75 – Rob Labritz (USA), Richard Sterne (RSA), Shane Lowry (IRL), Lee Westwood (ENG), Martin Trainer (USA), Joaquin Niemann (CHI), Rich Beem (USA), John Daly (USA), Matt Fitzpatrick (ENG), Rafa Cabrera Bello (ESP), Padraig Harrington (IRL)
76 – Kiradech Aphibarnrat (THA), Jason Dufner (USA), Bubba Watson (USA), Eddie Pepperell (ENG), Yang Yong-eun (KOR), Rich Berberian (USA), Emiliano Grillo (ARG), Tom Lewis (ENG), Jhonattan Vegas (VEN)
77 – J.T. Poston (USA), Casey Russell (USA), Michael Thompson (USA), Rod Perry (USA), Ryan Palmer (USA), Justin Bertsch (USA), Brian Harman (USA), Shaun Micheel (USA), Alex Beach (USA), Kevin Kisner (USA), Jorge Campillo (ESP), Dylan Frittelli (RSA)
78 – Brendan Jones (AUS), Ryan Fox (NZL), Craig Bowden (USA) 78, Pan C.T. (TPE), Danny Balin (USA)
79 – John O’Leary (USA), Brandon Stone (RSA)
80 Alex Bjork (SWE)
81 – Jeffrey Schmid (USA)
82 – Stuart Deane (AUS), Craig Hocknull (AUS)
84 – Andrew Filbert (USA)
WD – Brian Gay (USA) 81