ACKERMAN: Koepka Stares Down Bethpage

Tom Ackerman
May 16, 2019 - 4:52 pm
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FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (KMOX) — The winner of half of last year’s majors, the man going for three of the last five, showed up to the golf course for Thursday’s first round dressed in black.

How appropriate.

Bethpage Black Golf Course, meet Brooks Koepka.

The defending PGA champion wasted no time making his presence felt, firing a -7 round of 63, a course record at one of the most feared layouts in golf. The 7,468-yard beast — with its four-inch rough and lengthy, narrow fairways — became a playground for Koepka, who drained his first putt of the morning for a birdie on No. 10 and went on to make six more.

Related: Koepka sets course record at Bethpage Black; Leads Tiger by nine strokes

And he did it all with none other than Tiger Woods in his group (the most popular athlete, perhaps, on the planet?) playing in his first event since a dramatic, electrifying Masters victory in April. 

Woods shot a two-over round of 72 on Thursday. 

It wasn’t without drama, though. The 15-time major champion slammed in an eagle putt on No. 4, igniting the New York crowd and putting him in red numbers for the first time.

“That was like Reggie Jackson hitting three home runs in October,” a fan remarked as the group walked to the next tee box. “That’s why we waited at this spot for hours.”

Woods made some birdies. But he surrounded those with a pair of double bogeys in a roller-coaster first round.

After back-to-back birdies, Woods was seen smiling and laughing on the third tee as he waited for the group in front of him to play. He then hit his tee shot, however, into a bunker ... and a scowl grew on his face. He quickly flicked the tee away. Woods made par on the hole, though, and then roared back for eagle on No. 4. 

But he never could get his game charging forward, bringing into question whether his stamina was where it needed to be. Woods was sick on Wednesday, he said, and that’s why he didn’t show up for a previously planned nine-hole practice round.

Related: Jim Nantz describes why calling Tiger's Masters win brought a tear to his eye

Koepka, meanwhile, put on a display of power and finesse, a rare combination that separates him from the pack in nearly every major these days. He is the back-to-back U.S. Open champion and the proud owner of a Wanamaker Trophy earned at Bellerive in 2018.

It seems quite normal to see him at the top, fearing no one. Including Tiger. Koepka was asked earlier in the week why he wasn’t afraid of Woods.

“He’s not going to knock my teeth in,” Koepka responded, almost surprised by the question. “He’s not going to hurt me. What’s there to be afraid of?”

While the raucous, sometimes smart-aleck galleries rooted on Woods, they saved some love for Koepka, one of the favorites in the field (and THE favorite if you saw my interview with CBS’ Amanda Balionis). 

When they weren’t celebrating Mets icon David Wright, the honorary ambassador following the Woods-Koepka-Francesco Molinari group, parents and kids strained their necks to see greatness. A golden era for golf.

Several fans, now free to gamble on sports in the New York area, yelled out that Koepka was going to make him a lot of money this weekend.

Koepka never flinched, remained laser-focused... and picked apart Bethpage like Rees Jones completing a redesign. On a bright, sunny day on Long Island, there was no stopping Koepka. 

Three more days of this?

Watch out for the man in black.

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