KOEPKA'S OPENING SALVO
Brooks Koepka made history on Thursday, as he carded a Bethpage Black record and bogey-free 63 to grab a one-shot lead over New Zealand’s Danny Lee in the first round of the PGA Championship. It was the lowest opening round ever carded by a defending PGA champion and made Koepka the first player with multiple 63s in any single major championship (also a second-round 63 in last year's PGA at Bellerive en route to claiming his first Wanamaker Trophy).Koepka is just the third player to post multiple career 63s in major championships, joining Greg Norman and Vijay Singh.Koepka's 63 was the 17th recorded in PGA Championship play.
Playing in the featured pairing with reigning Masters Champion Tiger Woods and 2018 Open Championship winner Francesco Molinari, Koepka established his dominance early by chipping in from 40 feet on the first hole (Hole No. 10, as he began on the Back 9). He then added birdies at 14, 18, 1, 3 and 5 before capping things off with a 33'7" birdie putt on his final hole (No. 9).
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DEFENDING CHAMP ON THE OFFENSIVE
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, since 1980, Koepka’s 63 is the lowest opening round score relative to par (seven-under) by a player beginning his major title defense the next year. Koepka surpassed six under-par scores posted by Jordan Spieth at the 2016 Masters, Tiger Woods at the 2000 PGA Championship and Jose Maria Olazabal at the 1995 Masters.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN
While Koepka's 63 Thursday was historic on many levels, he missed a couple of opportunities to go lower, most notably on Bethpage Black's two par 5s: No. 4 (par) and No. 13 (par). Koepka went 6-under (6 birdies, 2 pars) in last year's PGA Championship, playing Bellerive's two par 5s.
ATTACK ON THE BLACK
Koepka's 63 moved a number of historical needles today, including that it established a new course record on Bethpage State Park's esteemed Black Course. Koepka's effort today usurped five players who previously shared the course record at 64: Craig Thomas (2007 New York State Open), Lucas Glover (2009 U.S. Open), Mike Weir (2009 U.S. Open), Padraig Harrington (2012 Barclays), amateur Cameron Young (2017 New York State Open).
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FIRST THINGS FIRST
Since the PGA Championship's stroke-play era began in 1958, Koepka is the first defending champion to have sole possession of first place after the first round of the following year's PGA Championship. One PGA Champion, however, was able to begin his title defense by earning a share of first place on Thursday of the following year: 1999 PGA Champion Tiger Woods was tied for the lead with Scott Dunlap after the first round of the 2000 PGA Championship.
BROOKS TAMES BETHPAGE’S TOUGHEST
Three of Brooks Koepka’s seven first-round birdies occurred amongst Bethpage Black’s most challenging holes: No. 3 (4th toughest), No. 5 (3rd toughest), and No. 10 (2nd toughest).
Not only was Koepka the only player to sign a bogey-free scorecard, every other player in the field recorded at least two bogey-or-worse scores in the first round except for Dustin Johnson (one: No. 1) and Sungjae Im (one: No. 5).
SOLO FIRST-ROUND LEAD
Since 1984, only one PGA Champion held the solo first-round lead: Jimmy Walker in 2016 at Baltusrol Golf Club. Hal Sutton went wire-to-wire in 1983 to capture the Wanamaker Trophy at Riviera Country Club.
GOOD TIMING FOR LEE
Acutely aware of Koepka's imposing 63, Lee nevertheless teed off Thursday at 12:10 p.m. and went about his business. The result was a 64 that included eight birdies and a pair of bogeys. Despite only hitting seven of 14 fairways, Lee's 64 was how low round of the year and the best effort of his career in a major championship. More importantly, it put him within a single shot of Koepka.
The 2008 U.S. Amateur Champion, Lee bogeyed the 15th, but buckled up to cap his eye-opening first-round effort with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 17 and 18. He also closed the gap thanks to birdies on three of Bethpage Black's four par 3s.
LEE’S IN FAMILIAR TERRITORY
Lee is one stroke behind Koepka alone in second place; a familiar first-round position in a major championship for Lee. Following the first round of the 2016 Masters, Lee was in a tie for second place. He finished in a tie for 17th – his best performance in a major.
Lee was in third place following the first round of the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, but a second-round 77 slid him down the leaderboard en route to a 43rd place finish.
With a 67 Thursday, Tommy Fleetwood registered the best opening-round in his five career PGA Championship appearances. It also matched his best first round in a major championship. At the 2017 U.S. Open, Fleetwood's started with a 67 on Thursday en route to a fourth-place finish at Erin Hills.
PGA CHAMPIONSHIP BEST FOR FLEETWOOD
In what was his 13th competitive round in the PGA Championship, Fleetwood posted his personal best total score and score to par, a 3-under 67.
Tony Finau entered the 2019 PGA Championship with the most top 10 major championship finishes in the field since the 2018 Masters. Finau has recorded four: T-10 (2018 Masters), 5 (2018 U.S. Open), T-9 (2018 Open) and T-5 (2019 Masters). His lone non-top-10 finish came at the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive (T-42). A first-round 70 positions Finau in a tie for 17th.
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