By Norm Elrod
(CBS New York/CBS Local) — Brooks Koepka jumped out to a commanding lead on Day 1 of the PGA Championship. The defending champion, one of the early favorites going in, set the tone early, with a birdie from 40 feet out to open the round. Koepka closed it with another birdie from almost as far. And in between, he played bogey-free golf en route to a 7-under 63 for the day.
While Koepka broke the course record, only 15 other players broke par on a Bethpage Black that lived up to its reputation. The course punished players who ventured off the fairway into the deep rough. Frankly, it punished players in general. At least the weather cooperated.
Koepka can’t possibly keep up this pace, which included five birdie putts of at least 12 feet. But he also probably won’t implode, when he tees off Friday afternoon. Who can catch him going into the weekend, or at least set themselves up for a Saturday or Sunday surge?
Jordan Spieth isn’t having a great season, but a good showing at the PGA Championship could help turn that around. He entered the clubhouse Thursday with a 1-under 69, tied with Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and a few others. If anyone is going to catch Koepka, it’s probably one of these guys. And Spieth made his case early with a couple birdies on the front nine. Then he gave them back, with a double-bogey on the 10th. He played his Friday round at 4-under, leaving himself in good position going into the weekend. Can avoiding mistakes and relying on his putter lead him to a career grand slam? The achievement has to be somewhere in the back of his mind.
Daniel Berger finished up his Thursday round at an even par, which was seven strokes off of Koepka’s torrid pace. He then improved his standing Friday morning with a round of 4-under, among the best of the day’s first wave. Berger birdied the 10th and 11th holes to open his second round before bogeying the 12th. His final birdie, on the ninth hole, included a beautiful 173-yard approach to within a foot of the pin. With that he climbed into contention, tied with Johnson and one stroke behind Spieth, as everyone awaits the afternoon results.
The world’s top-ranked player shot a 69 in the opening round. Coming out with a bogie that included multiple shots from the rough, Johnson quickly relaxed and set about carding pars — 15 of them for the round. The usually sure-handed player had to muscle his way out of a couple sticky situations early and missed some very make-able putts, forgoing scoring opportunities. But he was consistent overall. His Friday round featured more birdies and bogeys, but with basically the same result. Johnson carded 3-under for the second round, leaving himself T3 as of early afternoon on Friday.
The Masters winner from five weeks ago opened looking like a golfer who hasn’t played competitively since. In a group with Koepka, Woods started on the course’s toughest stretch with a double bogie on 10, before settling into a series of pars. His putting was spotty, and he had trouble off the tee all day — both reflected on his scorecard. At nine strokes back, Tiger can climb out this hole, if he keeps to the fairways and takes advantage of his opportunities. But the traditionally slow starter has some ground to make up. Tiger sputtered out to a 1-over start in his Friday round, just inside the projected cut line.
Danny Lee shot the best round of his season, maybe his career. And his 6-under 64 still left him one stroke off the lead. Lee, like Woods, has recently recovered from a major back injury. Also like Woods, Lee didn’t do himself any favors with the driver in his opening round, finishing 135th in driving on the day. Lee came out Friday and promptly eliminated himself from contention, shooting 4-over for the round. So much for the dark horse.
CBS coverage of the PGA Championship airs Saturday and Sunday at 2-7 p.m. Eastern, with additional coverage on CBS Sports Network and CBSSports.com throughout the tournament.