Golf has an old standby remark for most every occasion, offering sympathy, instruction, wisdom or insight. “Never up, never in,” for a putt left short. Or, “You can talk to a fade but a hook won’t listen.” For Brooks Koepka’s play in this PGA Championship, one old standby seemed to fit best: “What course was he playing?”
This was Bethpage Black, the fire-breather on Long Island that handled the world’s best without breaking a sweat in two U.S. Opens and that was doing fine against the field in this PGA, except for Koepka. Koepka, indeed, did seem to be playing somewhere else. After that seven-under 63 in the first round, he added a 65 in the second and was at 128, the lowest 36-hole score in any major. He was also at 12 under and leading by seven, the biggest halfway lead in a Grand Slam event in 85 years. And then he issued something of a disclaimer.
“This probably sounds bad,” Koepka said, “but today was a battle. I didn’t strike it that good. But the way I hung in there … Not having your ‘A’ game but still being able to shoot a great score. I was very, very pleased with the way I played.”
For all of Koepka’s fireworks, it was still much of a Tiger Woods show, spilling over from his thrilling win at the Masters. But Woods, playing with Koepka and Francesco Molinari, ran afoul of Bethpage. He bogeyed three straight starting the back nine, missing all three fairways, shot 73, and at five-over 145 missed the cut by one stroke.
Woods’ post-mortem: “Made too many mistakes and just didn’t do the little things. I had a couple three-putts … didn’t hit wedges close … didn’t hit any fairways. Did a lot of little things wrong.”
Koepka’s scorecard didn’t even hint at any real trouble. He seemed to be frolicking. He birdied three of the first four — a wedge to three feet at No. 1, a wedge to eight feet at the second, then at the par-five No. 4, a seven-iron second to 18 feet and two putts. He bogeyed the 10th, his first in 28 holes, then made more hay coming in. After a two-putt birdie at the par-five 13th (he had birdied both par-fives), he rushed to an impressive finish. At the par-four 15th, he hit a nine iron to three feet. At the par-four 16th, he wedged to five feet, and after a three-putt bogey at 17, he birdied 18, wedging out of heavy grass to 11 feet.
The next best halfway scores were five-under 135s by Jordan Spieth (66) and Adam Scott (64) — seven behind.
“I’d like to see that lead grow as large as it possibly can,” Koepka said. “I still have to go out there and … keep putting the ball in the right spot …and I should have a good chance of winning the championship.”
In the “other” PGA, as some were calling it, Spieth and Scott were trying to make a run at it. Spieth posted his fifth birdie at the 11th, then cooled with bogeys at the 15th and 16th. “If I’m able to put some good work in tomorrow, I will be in contention on Sunday,” he said. Scott was on a tear with an other-worldly putter. He birdied the first three holes on putts of 25, 40 and 30 feet and added another at No. 5 from 14 feet. “Just a bizarre game sometimes,” he explained.
Five players were at four-under 136 and also in contention at eight behind:
- Dustin Johnson started on the back nine, bogeyed his first hole and his ninth, reeled off five birdies in between, and shot 67. “I wasn’t thinking anything other than the next shot I had to hit,” he said.
- Daniel Berger (66): “You don’t hit the fairway, you have to take your medicine. There was two shots I hit out of the rough today that were two of the worst lies I’ve ever had in my life.”
- Kelly Kraft (65): “It’s just me and my caddie, and he’s telling me where to hit it and I’m trying to hit it there.”
- Matt Wallace (67): “I missed a short one on the seventh and eighth. So, disappointed, but we’re at a major. I’ve got to move on.”
- Luke List (68): “It was a grind. Just kind of pieced it together. I was pretty
happy with two under.”
- Koepka had good reason to be optimistic with that seven-shot lead. But there was another old saying, echoing in the background, and used in all sports: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
Second-round leaders: Brooks Koepka 65–128, Jordan Spieth 66–135, Adam Scott 64–135, Daniel Berger 66–136, Dustin Johnson 67–136, Kelly Kraft 65–136, Matt Wallace 67–136, Luke List 68–136.