Confident, in-form Brooks Koepka takes charge at Bethpage Black

PGA Championship

Defending champion Brooks Koepka made a massive statement on the opening day of the PGA Championship, firing a seven-under-par 63 to leave golf’s biggest names trailing in his wake.

Koepka cut a supremely confident figure after his stellar opening round at Bethpage Black on Thursday, which looked set to hand him a significant lead before New Zealander Danny Lee produced a 64 late in the day to finish just one stroke back.

Despite winning three majors in the last two years, Koepka doesn’t always receive the credit he deserves, and doesn’t yet boast the kind of intimidation factor other stars have had in their prime, but he insists it doesn’t bother him one bit.

“I felt like I won this last year, I’m playing good, I’ve just got to go out there and focus on me,” Koepka said.

“I’m there to do one job and that’s play a good round of golf. It doesn’t bother me too much what anybody else thinks.

“It was great that Tiger won Augusta, but I mean we’re at a new week now,” he added of his playing partner for the first two rounds.

“You know what you’re going to get when you play with him. 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 through it.”

Koepka’s 63 set a new course record, equalled the tournament record and made him only the third player to shoot 63 twice in a major after Greg Norman and Vijay Singh.

The 29-year-old made four birdies on the front nine and three more on the back with a single blemish on his card, but he still felt like it should have been better.

“Didn’t birdie either of the par-5s. That was disappointing because those are holes you should be able to birdie,” Koepka said. “Would have been nice to shoot 60. I guess that would have been pretty good.”

“I’ve never been this confident,” he added. “I think I’m still learning, understanding my game. I’ve figured it out and over the next few years I’m excited for what’s to come.”

An incredible 40-footer for birdie on the 10th – his first hole of the day – helped set the tone for his round.

“When that putt went in, that was the momentum that kind of set me,” he said. “I never once thought about the course record or anything. I was just trying to shoot the best I could.

“When I’m out there it just like anybody else. I’m at work and just trying to grind.”

Koepka’s lead was significantly reduced by the efforts of Danny Lee, who finished in second place after a high-class 64.

Lee is a full three strokes clear of England’s Tommy Fleetwood, whose three-under 67 was good enough to hand him solo third place.

“It felt like there were a few chances today, but it’s still a brutal golf course,” Fleetwood said. “As soon as you’re out of position, you’re going to struggle. There are some really tough holes out there, and you can’t switch off for a minute.

“Luckily enough, I hit plenty of good golf shots. I holed all those putts that you want to hole that are kind of momentum putts and it was very accepting out there, so overall had a good day.”

Meanwhile, five players share fourth a further shot back – Americans Chez Reavie, Luke List and Pat Perez, Frenchman Mike Lorenzo-Vera and South Korean Sung Kang, fresh from his maiden PGA Tour victory at the Byron Nelson.

It was not a great day for either Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy, both of whom opened with two-over-par 72s to lie a full nine shots off Koepka’s record-setting pace.

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