Brooks Koepka has been the best player in the major championships the last few years and it was more of the same in the first round of the 101st PGA Championship.
Third-ranked Koepka, the defending champion, posted a flawless 7-under-par 63 to take a one-stroke lead over Danny Lee of New Zealand on the Black Course at Bethpage Black State Park www.bethpagegolfcourse.com in Farmingdale, N.Y.
“I drove the ball really well and you have to hit the fairways here if you want to have a chance to get the ball on the greens,” said Koepka, who also has won the last two U.S. Opens. “When I missed, I missed in the right places.
“And my putter was really hot today. I hasn’t felt this good in a long time. It was a crazy day, going that low, because I felt like I left a few out there. I have a few things to clean up, but I’ll take this every day. … That was one of the best rounds I’ve played probably as a professional.”
Koepka, who also posted a 63 en route to winning the PGA title last year at Bellerive in St. Louis, kick-started his round with a 40-foot birdie putt from the fringe while starting on the 10th hole and closed with a 33-footer for his seventh birdie on the ninth hole.
Lee collected four birdies and a bogey on each nine, finishing with birdies on the last two holes.
“I’ve been working on everything, but mainly my body strength and it’s paying off,” said Lee, whose only PGA Tour victory came in the 2015 Greenbrier Classic. “I’m a lot stronger and it’s improved my clubhead speed. I’m probably hitting the ball 15 yards longer. It’s been great.”
Tommy Fleetwood of England capped his 67 with a five-foot birdie putt on the ninth hole and is alone in third, while Sung Kang of South Korea, who claimed his first PGA Tour victory last week in the AT&T Byron Nelson, totaled 68 and is tied for fourth with Pat Perez of San Diego, Luke List, Chez Reavie and Mike Lorenzo-Vera of France.
Top-ranked Dustin Johnson finished at 69 and is tied for 10th with 2005 PGA winner Phil Mickelson, 10th-ranked Rickie Fowler of Murrieta, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos, Jason Day of Australia, Matt Wallace of England and Si Woo Kim of South Korea.
Ninth-ranked Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State shot 70 and is in a tie for 17th that includes second-ranked Justin Rose of England, while suxth-ranked Tiger Woods wound up at 72 and is in a tie for 51st that includes fourth-ranked Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, seventh-ranked Francesco Molinari of Italy and eighth-ranked Bryson DeChambeau of Clovis.
“It was not the best start with a double bogey on my first hole,” said Woods, coming off his 15th major victory in the Masters, who sank a 31-foot eagle putt on the fourth hole. “I came back in the middle of the round and then let it get away at the end.
Fifth-ranked Justin Thomas, the 2017 PGA champion, withdrew early in the week because of a right wrist injury.
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