Sport

PGA Championship: Brooks Koepka storms into formidable lead as Tiger Woods trails in his dust

Tiger Woods and Brooks Koepka, Masters champion and defending champion, softening predecessor and steel-edged disciple walked to the first tee at Bethpage Black, before exchanging smiles and a friendly fist-bump. Fifteen minutes later, there were three shots between them, and Koepka waltzed into a robotic pomp that never slowed.

At the turn it was three, by 14 it was six with an early English contingent trailing dust as Koepka plundered with stone menace. At yesterday’s press conference, half of the room had fled in tow of Woods while Koepka claimed he was ready to win “double-figure majors” to the echoes of an auditorium. By the end of today, not a soul dared stir against him.

One of the world’s most treacherous expanses of course, with hairpin fairways mobbed by thick, long brushes of grass and eight acres of sand, on his tenth hole Koepka sliced a 310-yard drive directly over the trees that guard the dog-leg and pitched from the rough to within arm’s reach of the hole with the effortless glide of a Karambit.

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This was a devastating vein of golf by the sport’s best player. Few players have ever dismantled the Black Course in such confident and clinical fashion. When Woods won the US Open at Bethpage in 2002, he was the only player to finish under-par. But what was most remarkable was the guile with which Koepka careered to finish at seven-under, huge streaking birdie putts to complete the wire-to-wire demolition. He shrugged, swaggered, sighed at the long breaks in play with all the ambivalence and ennui that’s come to be expected, and blew away all those in pursuit all the while.

Alongside him, Woods, who was playing his first competitive round since his heroism at Augusta, started with the wear and rust built by a one-month absence. He swept in last week on his $18m superyacht, skipped to an early practice round, but had barely emerged since, nursing a still-aching body. Yesterday, as his peers flooded the range, he was nowhere to be seen.


Who will win the PGA Championship 2019?





1/26 Who will win the 2019 PGA Championship?

2/26 Jason Dufner

3/26 Henrik Stenson (SWE)

4/26 Paul Casey (ENG)

5/26 Hideki Matsuyama (JAP)

6/26 Patrick Reed (USA)

7/26 Matt Kuchar (USA)

8/26 Ian Poulter (ENG)

9/26 Tony Finau (USA)

10/26 Max Homa (USA)

11/26 Xander Schauffele (USA)

12/26 Phil Mickelson (USA)

13/26 Bubba Watson (USA)

14/26 Tommy Fleetwood (ENG)

15/26 Jason Day (AUS)

16/26 Justin Rose (ENG)

17/26 Jordan Spieth (USA)

18/26 Rickie Fowler (USA)

19/26 Justin Thomas (USA)

20/26 Francesco Molinari (ITA)

21/26 Jon Rahm (ESP)

22/26 Bryson DeChambeau (USA)

23/26 Dustin Johnson (USA)

24/26 Brooks Koepka (USA)

25/26 Rory McIlroy (NIR)

26/26 Tiger Woods (USA)

1/26 Who will win the 2019 PGA Championship?

2/26 Jason Dufner

3/26 Henrik Stenson (SWE)

4/26 Paul Casey (ENG)

5/26 Hideki Matsuyama (JAP)

6/26 Patrick Reed (USA)

7/26 Matt Kuchar (USA)

8/26 Ian Poulter (ENG)

9/26 Tony Finau (USA)

10/26 Max Homa (USA)

11/26 Xander Schauffele (USA)

12/26 Phil Mickelson (USA)

13/26 Bubba Watson (USA)

14/26 Tommy Fleetwood (ENG)

15/26 Jason Day (AUS)

16/26 Justin Rose (ENG)

17/26 Jordan Spieth (USA)

18/26 Rickie Fowler (USA)

19/26 Justin Thomas (USA)

20/26 Francesco Molinari (ITA)

21/26 Jon Rahm (ESP)

22/26 Bryson DeChambeau (USA)

23/26 Dustin Johnson (USA)

24/26 Brooks Koepka (USA)

25/26 Rory McIlroy (NIR)

26/26 Tiger Woods (USA)

And on the first hole, as he oversaw the beginning of Koepka’s computer game odyssey and thousands of New Yorkers jockeyed for position behind the rope, we were treated to a reminder of Woods’ 43-year-old mortality after all the myth and majesty of the Masters.

His drive found the rough, his strength would only allow him to spade it out to the end of the fairway and the near 500-yard behemoth par-four was taken in six. A double-bogey start, which he would spend the remaining 17 holes grappling to recover. A first birdie was followed by another double on the par-3, before a brilliant sprint at the turn where Woods went four-under-par through four holes – an eagle three on the par-5 5th the highlight.

There were those bursts to evoke the trance of Augusta, but this was by no means Woods mainlining with the same force. His putter ran a fraction untrue, his chipping a hint uncouth and three bogeys in his last five holes had him bobbing in the tides. After 18 holes, he is some nine shots back and virtually drifted from the running.

For Francesco Molinari, the gloried third-wheel of the entourage, the fare was no easier. Two bogeys in the opening three holes were recovered, only to run cul de sac on the back-nine, gridlocked on terms with Woods at two-over-par and swaying out of sight.

There was still hope for that crop of elite Englishman who commandeered the early leaderboard before attempting to cling on. Not since 1919 has the PGA Championship been won by someone from home soil, but Matt Wallace raced into an early – albeit temporary – lead, before the ever reliable and lovable Tommy Fleetwood picked up the pieces to lie four shots back. Justin Rose, Eddie Pepperell and Ian Poulter all linger on the outskirts of contention at even par, but they are tracking the footsteps of the tour de force. At one of golf’s greatest and most unforgiving challenges, Koepka did something infuriating and fascinating: he made it look that easy.

As Koepka made his way in, Rory McIlroy left the range to begin his opening salvo. Before the Northern Irishman could even land his first blow today, the tournament’s entire context had changed. Under Farmingdale’s beating sun, the landscape had been scorched and every competitor is now despairingly chasing Koepka’s dusty trail.

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