Sergio has started stodgily, with bogeys at 11 and now 12. He’s +2 early doors. And so much for building up Max Homa: the conqueror of Quail Hollow’s Green Mile bends at Bethpage Black, with dropped shots at 13, 14 and 15. That opening birdie at 10 - some feat given what we’ve seen since - feels a lifetime ago. He’s +2.
All three members of the morning marquee group reach the 11th green in regulation. Koepka, having bashed a 330-yard drive down the track, has wedged to eight feet. Molinari is perhaps double the distance away. Tiger faces a long birdie putt. He shaves the hole from 30 feet; par to stay at +2. Molinari races his four feet past, but knocks the return in; par and he’s +1. And Koepka pulls his short birdie effort, and the chance to take sole ownership of the early lead is gone. He remains in the bunch at -1.
Koepka joins a large group sharing the early lead at -1. It also contains Sam Burns, Keith Mitchell, Mike Lorenzo-Vera, Shane Lowry, Erik Van Rooyen, Jimmy Walker, Chez Reavie, Haotong Li, Shaun Norris, JB Holmes and Troy Merritt. All of those players - bar Koepka, Lowry and Van Rooyen - teed off at the 1st and have yet to play the treacherous 10th, away in the far corner. They’ll be warmed up when they reach it, but that won’t be the case tomorrow. The very early leader Spaun has dropped another shot at 8, and is back at level par.
The defending champion Brooks Koepka rattles in a 50-footer from just off the green! He starts with birdie, and it’s really not clear why he didn’t start this tournament as favourite. The three-time major winner - who will be defending the next major as well, the US Open at Pebble Beach - has distance, a nails short game, and ice in the veins. What’s not to love? Anyway, it’s a bogey for Molinari - not the worst result given that tee shot - and a double for Tiger, whose short bogey putt lips out. He trudges off, not thinking of number 16 right now, it’s safe to say.
Molinari finds his first ball. His drive was so wild that it went over a hillock of tangled nonsense, and he’s able to chip back easily from between a couple of bunkers on 11 and onto the fairway. He wedges his third to 20 feet, so he’ll at least have a chance to escape with par. Koepka is just off the back in two. But Tiger, having opted to lay up, better to land an approach onto a tight green, sends his third over the back. He chips back up to six feet, but this will be an opening bogey at best for Tiger, who hasn’t hit a shot in anger since winning the Masters last month.
Tiger is out and about! He’s got a habit of larruping his opening drives at major championships into deep bother. And it doesn’t help that he’s starting at the 10th, a good way from the practice range; starters there will have completed their warm-up routines quite a while ago. His first clack here is far from perfect, a little to the right, but it looks like it’s only in the semi-rough. The current Masters champion is going round, as per PGA Championship tradition, with the holders of the US Open and Open titles. Brooks Koepka splits the fairway, but Francesco Molinari snap-hooks wildly and decides to hit a provisional. Tigeresque.
The course has already taken a chunk out of a few big names. Rickie Fowler has double-bogeyed 10, the result of driving into a fairway bunker and then sending his escape into deep rough. Don’t go into the rough here. The 2013 champion Jason Dufner is sleepwalking his way into trouble: everyone’s favourite somnambulist has bogyed 1 and 2. (It’s a split-tee start.) Thomas Pieters, starting at 10, opened double bogey, bogey, double bogey, birdie. The par-five 13th giving him a little solace there. (Only two par-fives on this course, which doesn’t help those trying to claw back shots.) He’s +5 already. And Kiradech Aphibarnrat has made two doubles and a bogey in his first four holes: he’s +5 having just played 13.
And with that, Bethpage Black reverts to type ... by snatching a shot back off Spaun, who now ties for the very early lead at -1 with Homa, Erik Van Rooyen, 2016 champ Jimmy Walker and Chez Reavie.
Here we go, then, all my golfing friends and lovers. We have an early leader in JJ Spaun: early birdies at 2 and 4 bring the 28-year-old from LA to -2. He’s one ahead of a pack of fellow morning starters that includes the in-form Max Homa, who won the Wells Fargo at Quail Hollow a couple of weeks ago. Any player who can hold their nerve on the Green Mile - the infamous closing stretch that did for Kevin Kisner at the 2017 PGA - can’t be discounted here.
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