FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Three majors in two years, and Brooks Koepka still can feel as though he has something to prove.
He delivered again on one of golf’s biggest stages Thursday. And this time, Tiger Woods was along for the ride.
Koepka beat up on brawny Bethpage Black for a record-setting start to his title defense in the PGA Championship. With a 40-foot birdie to start his round and a birdie putt from just inside 35 feet at the end, he shot a 7-under-par 63 to break the course record and become the first player to shoot 63 in the same major twice.
“That was one of the best rounds I’ve played probably as a professional,” Koepka said. “This golf course is brutal.”
He was 10 shots better than the average score in the opening round, but only one better than Danny Lee on a day when only 16 players broke par, the fewest for the first round of the PGA Championship since 2008 at Oakland Hills.
It was only one round, but enough to make the Masters that Woods won last month feel more nostalgic than a sign of more to come.
Photo: Ben Solomon / New York Times
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“I felt like I won this last year. I’m playing good,” Koepka said. “It was great that Tiger won Augusta, but I mean, we’re at a new week now. … Obviously, everyone is going to be cheering for him, and it’s going to be loud, especially if he makes a putt. You’ve just got to keep battling.”
Thousands of fans who trudged across muddied paths to the far end of Bethpage Black on Thursday morning were drawn to Woods, a Masters champion again, announced on the 10th tee as the PGA champion from 1999, 2000, 2006 and 2007.
The introduction took long enough to remind everyone what Woods has done in the game.
Koepka then showed what he has done lately — back-to-back U.S. Open titles, a PGA Championship and an ideal start in his bid to join Woods as the only back-to-back winners of the PGA Championship in stroke play.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Lee said. “I mean, have you seen him playing U.S. Opens and PGA Championships in the last three years?”
Woods looked rusty early, inspired in the middle and sloppy late in his first competition since his emotionally draining victory at the Masters.
He opened with two 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 two three-putt bogeys. That gave him a 72, leaving him nine shots behind and ending 12 consecutive rounds at par or better in the majors dating to the U.S. Open last summer.
“It wasn’t as clean as I’d like to have it, for sure,” Woods said.
Tommy Fleetwood had a 67. 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.”
Doug Ferguson is an Associated Press writer.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/63-breaks-course-record-gives-Brooks-Koepka-lead-13852537.php.