Advertisement

Brooks Koepka is in a zone of his own with a seven-shot lead at the PGA Championship

Brooks Koepka is in a zone of his own with a seven-shot lead at the PGA Championship
Brooks Koepka watches his tee shot at No. 17 during the second round of the PGA Championship on Friday. (Stuart Franklin / Getty Images)

Brooks Koepka played at least 10 hours of golf with Tiger Woods over the first two days of the 101st PGA Championship.

In those 36 holes, Koepka admitted Friday evening, he couldn’t recall the specifics of a single shot Woods hit.

Advertisement

Stunning, maybe, but that’s the bubble Koepka put himself in during the most dominating start in the history of major championship golf.

With birdies on three of his last four holes, Koepka shot a five-under-par 65 in the second round after opening with a Bethpage Black course record of 63.

The 29-year-old’s seven-shot lead over Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth is a record advantage by two strokes in PGA Championship history, and Koepka’s 12-under 128 total shattered the 36-hole record for all four majors by two shots.

Scott, the 2013 Masters champion, carded a 64 and gained only one shot. Spieth charged with a 66 and lost a stroke in his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

Koepka said after his round, “This probably sounds bad, but today was a battle. I didn’t strike it that good.”

He then went straight to the range and pounded balls in the fading light.

Koepka is carving up the beastly Bethpage course from what looks like a separate dimension. He might not have known what Woods scored when they walked off the 18th green, but he had to fathom that he’d all but lapped the reigning Masters champion.

The gap between the two was 17 shots, with a badly struggling Woods scoring 73 in the second round to finish at five over and miss the cut at the site of his 2002 U.S. Open victory. Woods hadn’t failed to make the weekend in a year he won a major since 2006.

British Open champion Francesco Molinari, the third in Koepka’s group, fared well by comparison, only 12 shots back in Bethpage’s tall fescue.

Even the low-key Koepka has to believe that a victory here, which would give him four career major wins in fewer than two years, might be a foregone conclusion. He was asked if fans had witnessed the passing of the torch from Woods, whose win at Augusta gave him 15 major titles.

“I mean, I’ve got 11 more [majors] to go,” Koepka said before quickly catching himself.

“Twelve more to go before that happens.”

At the 18th green on Friday, when they putted out — Koepka making birdie and Woods cleaning up a par — Woods paused to shake Koepka’s hand and share a few words.

“Keep it up. Great playing, and finish it off strong” — that’s what Koepka recalled Woods saying. It was about all he remembered outside of his own play.

Advertisement

Koepka related that when he first played in the 2013 PGA Championship with Woods, he was mesmerized by one of the game’s all-time greatest players.

“I grew up watching him on TV,” Koepka said, “and I spent the first nine holes … all I did was pay attention to every move he made. Whether he was just picking up his tee, whatever it was. And you can’t do that. You’ve got to focus on your own game.”

Contrast that with the last two days.

“I couldn’t tell you what shots [Molinari] and Tiger hit,” Koepka said. “I watch him, but it really just doesn’t register what’s going on. I’m just watching ball flight, how they hit it, the contact, the sound, and then from there, making my judgment off the clubs or any adjustments I need to make.”

Koepka was installed as the tournament favorite along with Woods and Dustin Johnson at 10-1 because his power figured to suit such a muscular golf course. That has certainly come to fruition, with him ranking first in strokes gained on the field from tee to green. He missed only four fairways and three greens in the second round.

But the catalyst for his impressive run has come on the greens, where Koepka ranks second in the field in strokes gained putting. He has made 180 feet worth of putts, and his only three-putt of the tournament came on the par-three 17th Friday. There, Koepka had a first putt of 68 feet and left his second putt from seven feet an inch short.

Admitting he was “lost” and “uncomfortable” with his putting earlier this year, Koepka called on his putting coach Jeff Pierce before the Masters, where he tied for second, and the two have spent many nights in the basement of the player's Florida home working on his stroke.

“Usually I just set up and go, and we’ve finally gotten back to that,” Koepka said.

For those chasing Koepka, the only real hope is that the stroke somehow goes haywire over the weekend, or that he makes a couple of big numbers because of wayward tee shots.

He has two resurgent players closest to him in Scott and Spieth.

Scott seemingly found confidence in his game last year when he finished second in the PGA, and Spieth has shown signs this week of overcoming a months-long slump.

Spieth recorded six birdies in his round and said, “The lines are looking tighter. I’m able to think about aim small, miss small more, and really pick specific targets.”

Scott appeared the most likely to put pressure on Koepka when he notched seven birdies in his first 14 holes. There was buzz that he could break the course record that Koepka set the day before.

But the 38-year-old Australian gave a shot back on 17 and had to scramble for a par on 18.

In an interview, it was noted for Scott that Koepka has become a formidable front-runner.

“Well, it has to come to an end eventually — that good front-running,” Scott said to laughter. “Let’s hope it’s not 12 years, like Tiger’s front-running lasted.”

Advertisement
Advertisement