What Tiger Woods watched for the better part of five hours Thursday is what he helped create.
Woods is as much the reason for Brooks Koepka’s existence on the PGA Tour as anyone.
So it had to be a sobering sight for the 43-year-old Woods, watching the 29-year-old Koepka manhandle mighty Bethpage Black with a 7-under-par 63 to open the PGA Championship, matching the tournament record, and seize the first-round lead.
By the time the threesome of Woods, the reigning Masters champion, Francesco Molinari, the British Open champion, and Koepka, the defending PGA champion, finished their round, Woods and Molinari, both of whom shot 2-over 72, were nine shots behind Koepka.
Danny Lee, playing in the afternoon wave, posted a highly impressive 6-under 64 and is one shot behind Koepka. Tommy Fleetwood is four shots back after shooting 67. Pat Perez, Mike Lorenzo-Vera, Luke List, Chez Reavie, Sung Kang are all 2-under and five back.
An A-list of top players who are lurking at 1-under includes world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler.
The way Koepka methodically made his way around the daunting Black Course, tying both the course tournament record and the major championship record, he was playing one of those rounds that made you wonder whether he was playing the same golf course as the rest of the field.
Just the way Woods used to do it.
Koepka was a 6-year-old when Woods won his first of 15 major championships at the 1997 Masters, and he’s on record saying that it was Woods who drew him to golf, motivated him to become great.
And now, with three major championships to his credit since 2017, Koepka has become the man to beat in major championships at the moment, Woods and his fifth green jacket be damned.
When he was asked after his round if the Woods hysteria and hype since the Masters left him feeling like he needed to make a “statement’’ Thursday, Koepka shrugged.
“I mean, I won this [PGA] last year [and] I’m playing good,’’ he said. “It was great that Tiger won Augusta, but I mean, we’re at a new week now. I’ve just got to go out there and focus on me. I’m not really concerned about what’s going on [with anyone else].
“You know what you’re going to get when you play with [Woods]. Obviously, everybody in New York is going to be cheering for him, and it’s going to be loud, especially if he makes a putt. You’ve just got to keep battling and find a way to get through it.’’
Koepka “got through it’’ all right. He conducted a clinic in front of his golfing idol.
And here’s the thing about Koepka’s 63: It could have — perhaps should have — been lower. He missed birdie putts of inside 10 feet on Nos. 2, 11 and 13.
“I think that was probably the highest score he could have shot,’’ Woods said. “He left a few out there with a couple putts that he missed. But it could have easily been a couple better.’’
Koepka birdied Nos. 10, 14 and 18 on his first nine holes and then birdied Nos. 1, 3, 5 and 9 on his back nine, finishing with a bogey-free card.
Playing with Woods surely was added motivation for Koepka, who got the best of Woods at the PGA in August, though Woods outlasted Koepka at the Masters last month.
“I don’t see it as a rivalry,’’ Koepka said before the tournament. “Although it is fun to play against him, best player to ever play the game. I’m just looking forward to this week, to playing with him. It’ll be interesting.’’
It wasn’t so interesting for Woods, who doubled his first hole of the day, No. 10, right after Koepka dropped a 40-foot birdie-bomb putt in, and doubled the par-3 17th. Woods, as he does, rallied and after a birdie on No. 4, a par-5, got to 1-under par and on the first page of the leaderboard.
But sloppy bogeys on Nos. 5, 7 and 8 dropped Woods to 2-over and on the outside of contention looking in at Koepka.
Woods, explaining why he curiously opted not to come to Bethpage to practice or play Wednesday, said that he “wasn’t feeling that good, so I decided to stay home and rest. I got a little bit sick, so I decided to stay home.’’
Watching, up close and personal, how much better Koepka was than him on Thursday cannot have made Woods feel any better.
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