Brooks Koepka delivered on the biggest stage again, this time with Tiger Woods at his side.
At times overlooked, even after winning three majors in the last two years, Koepka gave thousands of fans a round to remember yesterday at brawny Bethpage Black with a record-setting start to his title defence in the PGA Championship.
He had a 7-under 63, making him the first player in 101 years of the PGA Championship to shoot that score twice. He broke the course record at Bethpage Black and became the first player to post 63 at a major in consecutive years.
"That was one of the best rounds I've played probably as a professional," Koepka said. "This golf course is brutal."
Kiwi Danny Lee was nearly as impressive and made eight birdies in the afternoon, including the final two holes. He finished with a 64 to close the gap to one shot, exceeding his own expectations.
Woods, who had not played Bethpage Black since his nine-hole practice round on Monday, and had not played a tournament since he won the Masters, opened with a pair of double bogeys on the back nine and ruined a torrid start to the front nine — two birdies and a 30-foot eagle in a four-hole stretch — with a pair of three-putt bogeys. That gave him a 72, leaving him nine shots behind.
So special was Koepka's round, even on a course still soft from rain earlier in the week, that only 16 players broke par. He was 10 shots better than the average score in the opening round.
Tommy Fleetwood had a 67, while the group at 68 included Pat Perez, who played a practice round with Koepka on Tuesday. Jordan Spieth overcame a double bogey on the 10th hole for a 69 and was in a group that included Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day.
"The course is not easy, but Brooks obviously made it look real easy," Perez said. "I saw that on Tuesday when I played with him. I actually congratulated him on his win."
But it's far from over, even before Lee made his afternoon move to cut into the lead. Fowler was bemused when asked how close he would have to be to Koepka heading into the final round.
"What makes you think he's going to be leading?" Fowler said. "I would say there's no lead really safe here."
Woods is the only player to win back to back at the PGA Championship in stroke play — he did that twice — and Koepka had an ideal start in a bid to catch him. He won at Bellerive in steamy St Louis last August by two shots over a hard-charging Woods. Koepka played in the group in front of Woods at Augusta National and finished one back.
This time, they were together, along with British Open champion Francesco Molinari (72), and it was a one-man show.
It began with a 40-foot birdie putt from just off the back of the 10th green. It ended with a birdie putt from just inside 35 feet on the ninth hole for the 17th score of 63 in the PGA Championship.
Koepka is the ninth player to open a major with 63, and only two of them went on to win — Jack Nicklaus at Baltusrol in the 1980 US Open and Raymond Floyd at Southern Hills in the 1982 PGA Championship.