Thursday at the PGA Championship: Koepka leads Lee by one with a 63, Woods and McIlroy struggle


Recapping what you need to know from the first round of the PGA Championship

Another month, another major. Same Brooks Koepka. 

For the second time in as many months, the World No.3 holds the first round lead in a major championship - and he did it with a course record 63 at the highly demanding Bethpage Black. 

He takes a one shot lead heading in to Friday over New Zealand's Danny Lee, who made back-to-back birdies on his final two holes to card a six-under 64 - three shots better than anyone whose name is not Brooks Koepka. 

What particularly stood out from the opening day was the presence of last week's contenders from both the PGA and European Tour events at the top of the leaderboard, while the likes of Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods were beaten by the course in round one.

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Brooks Koepka in front of Danny Lee by one with history-making day in New York

The day belonged to the defending champion. Brooks Koepka matched the lowest ever score in a PGA Championship while setting the course record at Bethpage Black with a seven-under 63 to lead Danny Lee by one shot after round 1. 

He was the only player to go bogey free on Thursday (a feat he also achieved at the Masters), much in part to a markedly improved performance on the greens - making huge putts on his first hole from 40 feet and making a final hole birdie from just over 30 feet on the last. 

"I played great today," Koepka said. "I'm very, very pleased. The funny thing is it could have been a lot lower. 

 "My putter was hot today, I'm not going to lie. It hasn't felt that good in a long time. When that putt went in on No. 10, that was kind of the momentum that kind of set me. But I never once thought about the course record or anything. I was just trying to shoot the best I could. Simple as. Just keep going and total them up at the end."

His 63 was lauded by both players and commentators with the acknowledgement of Koepka's exceptional ability to perform at his best in major championships, having come off the course with a four-shot lead over the morning starters.

But in the breezier conditions of the afternoon, Danny Lee put together the best round of his major career to sit just one behind the three-time major champion. In fact, he posted one more birdie than Koepka did, but had two costly dropped shots on the 5th and 15th holes.

And you can count Lee in as someone who expected Koepka to do well.

"I wasn't surprised when Brooks shot 7-under this morning," he said. "I mean, have you seen him playing U.S. Opens and PGA Championships the last three years? When you're hitting driver, pitching wedge every hole. I wasn't -- yeah, I wasn't surprised at all. But it didn't change my game plan at all."

On a course that sets up to favour the longer hitters, Lee isn't a name that naturally springs to mind as someone who would perform well here, but he explained after his round that he's put a lot of work in to hitting the ball further - and he's glad it paid off.

"At first, I wasn't hitting it far enough to compete out here on the major championship -- PGA Championship or U.S. Open," said Lee. "Masters I might have had a chance. But now I'm definitely hitting it further. I can carry my driver about 290, 295 in the air. That's a huge bonus for me. And that was actually the first time I actually got to play in a major with this distance.

"I'm not like Brooks Koepka long, but I can carry it about 290, 300 now. My mindset was honestly some kind of under-par round would be good, but obviously I did a lot better than that today, and I was very pleased with it."

Last week's contenders in the mix

What particularly stood out was the presence on the first round leaderboard of winners and contenders from last week: If there's anyone looking for a reason why you should play the week before a major championship, this was a helpful reminder of how useful it can be. 

On the PGA Tour it was Sung Kang who took home the spoils with his victory at the AT&T Byron Nelson (Koepka finished tied 4th), and with a two-under 68 he heads in to the second round tied for 4th place. 

Kang lies one shot behind Tommy Fleetwood, who finished T8 while acting as host at last week's British Masters in Southport, and followed it up with a 67 during Thursday's round to grab solo third - four shots behind the leader.

Another player in the British Masters field last week was Matt Wallace, whose 72nd hole birdie miss left him to settle for second place. Still, the Masters Par-3 champion fired a one-under 69 during round one of the PGA Championship to end the day in a tie for 10th with some pretty impressive major champions for company. 

tommy fleetwood

16 Players under par after Round 1

Brooks Koepka and Danny Lee both put together remarkable rounds of golf that were an average of around 10 and 9 shots better than the rest of the field, but there were still 14 other players who managed to get in to red figures too. 

Fleetwood leads the chasing back on -3 with four others - Mike Lorenzo Vera, Chez Reavie, Pat Perez, Luke List and Sung Kang one shot adrift of him on two-under. 

Behind them are eight players on 1-under par, including major champions Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth, who has a chance to become the sixth person in history to complete the career grand slam this week. 

Also in that group are Matt Wallace, Rickie Fowler, Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay, who briefly held a share of the lead on the final day of the Masters last month before faltering to T9. 

25 players lie on level-par after them, including World No.2 Justin Rose, Xander Schauffele, Jon Rahm and Paul Casey. 

Woods, Molinari, McIlroy struggle to two-over 72s

Making his first start since claiming his 15th major title at the Masters last month, there were plenty that tipped Tiger Woods for more success this week: After all, he won the U.S Open at Bethpage Black back in 2002.

Back the course is a lot longer than it was then, and there were a few question marks after he only played nine holes on Monday and skipped both Tuesday and Wednesday, and talked about the difficulties of living and playing with a fused back in his press conference. 

He then got off to the worst possible start on Thursday, laying up of the par-four 10th hole (his first), flying his wedge over the back and making a double bogey.

Woods scrambled well as he played alongside Molinari and Koepka, and even put together two birdies and an eagle within the space of four holes to get back under par, but then dropped three shots in his next four. He currently sits nine shots behind playing partner, first round leader and defending champion Brooks Koepka, and said it was a case of missed opportunities. 

“It wasn't as clean as I'd like to have it for sure... I didn't take advantage of my opportunities there. But I fought my way back around there, and unfortunately I just didn't keep it together at the end."

tiger woods

But he was far from the only one to struggle. Open Champion Francesco Molinari and four-time major winner Rory McIlroy also carded 72's on day one, although late birdies gave each player a glimmer of momentum for Friday. 

Like Woods, both McIlroy and Molinari were expected to do well here this week. They each have a victory in 2019, and McIlroy has only finished outside the top 10 once this year - and that was a T21 at the Masters. As for Molinari, a MC in his last event came straight after two consecutive top-fives and a win in four starts, and a bounce back seemed inevitable. 

McIlroy opened his day with a dropped shot and fell back further when he missed from three feet for par on the eighth, and it was a matter of inches as plenty of birdie chances passed him by. His next score was another bogey, but he recovered on the final green to post a 72, and it gave him a lot of hope for a good second round. 

"Hit enough fairways, felt like I hit enough greens, and, you know, hit good putts, and some days they just find a way to not go in," McIlroy said in an assessment of his day. 

"I mean, look, if you can put the ball in play and give yourself chances, I felt like I gave myself enough chances today to shoot something sort of in the mid-60s. But, yeah, I mean, it gives me hope. It gives me hope I can go out tomorrow and shoot a low one.

"If I can just hit the ball similar tomorrow and make a few more putts and get myself into red numbers going into the weekend, I'd be pretty happy."


Molinari's day began in the same fashion but was a bit more tumultuous a round: He dropped shots on the 10th and 12th (his first and third), birdied the 14th, dropped a shot on 15 and made two more birdies on the 16th and 18th to make the turn in level-par. 

He scrambled well but two wayward drives cost him on his back nine as he made bogeys on five and seven, but typically the PGA Championship is the major he performs best at, so there's no doubt he'll also be vying to turn it around.