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Rory McIlroy well off the pace at PGA as Brooks Koepka sets course record


Tough day: Rory McIlroy shows his frustration
Tough day: Rory McIlroy shows his frustration
Brooks Koepka
Adam McKendry

By Adam McKendry

From the off, we weren't expecting Rory McIlroy to match Brooks Koepka's course record opening round at the US PGA Championship, but you would have hoped he'd put himself within touching distance.

But therein lies the difference between McIlroy and Koepka. While the American effectively, and efficiently, bludgeoned his way around Bethpage Black, McIlroy stuttered from the off and never recovered, taking until the final hole to register a birdie.

The World No.4 is nine shots adrift after the first day. As much as you want to make the argument that there's still 54 holes in which he can claw it back, already it looks like a mountain that cannot be ascended.

Possibly the most concerning thing for McIlroy is the damning truth that Bethpage did not play up to its ferocious reputation. Had it played tough for everyone, there would have been relief, but, as it was, it proved toothless.

Even taking Koepka's utterly sensational 63 out of the equation, by the close of play no fewer than 17 players found themselves under par.

The last time Bethpage hosted a Major, the 2009 US Open, there were just five.

The first tee shot is the scene setter for any tournament and, despite all the warnings that you have to keep your tee shots on the short grass at Bethpage, McIlroy pushed his in the rough.

That, in turn, led to an opening bogey, and that piled on the pressure just five shots into his round.

In previous editions of this tournament, the six pars that followed might have been seen as acceptable, but not this time around. Even more unacceptable was his three-putt at the eighth to fall two-over, the par putt sliding by from no more than three feet to add to the frustrations.

His woes were summed up on the 13th when he played a brilliant shot out of the rough to 10 feet for a birdie chance, only to see the putt lie in the jaws of the hole, and when he followed that up by flying the green on 15 and failing to make up-and-down for par, the walk to the 16th tee told you all you needed to know.

Only a closing birdie after a stunning approach spared him the blushes of having gained no shots on the day, but it didn't spare him the blushes of being well out of touch after 18 holes.

Compare him to the Major machine that is Koepka and there is no comparison. When it comes to Majors, the Palm Beach native has few equals right now.

Imperious from his first tee shot, Koepka had seven birdies and not a single dropped shot, and only on one occasion did he look like he might add a bogey to his scorecard.

His lead is only one, remarkably, as New Zealander Danny Lee followed him in with a six-under 64, with Tommy Fleetwood the next on the leaderboard back at three-under par.

Meanwhile, Graeme McDowell proved you don't need length off the tee to compete at Bethpage as he started his challenge with a level-par 70, shooting three birdies and as many bogeys.

Sitting 120th in the world rankings, a good finish this week would provide McDowell with a huge step towards competing in The Open Championship at Royal Portrush in July.

Masters champion Tiger Woods finished alongside McIlroy at two-over, needing a strong second round to make the cut for the weekend.

Selected scores (USA unless specified)

63: Brooks Koepka

64: Danny Lee (NZ)

67: Tommy Fleetwood (Eng)

68: Mike Lorenzo-Vera (Fra), Chez Reavie, Luke List, Sung Kang (Kor), Pat Perez, Si Woo Kim (Kor)

69: Rickie Fowler, Matt Wallace (Eng), Patrick Cantlay, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Jason Day (Aus), Jazz Janewattananond (Tha)

70: Graeme McDowell (Nir), Justin Rose (Eng), Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau, Jon Rahm (Esp), Matt Kuchar, Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa)

72: Rory McIlroy (Nir), Tiger Woods

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