FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – Brooks Koepka swaggered onto the driving range before the second round of the PGA Championship. There were plenty of open spaces. He chose the one next to Tiger Woods, turned his back and went to work.
Koepka once idolized Woods. Friday, Koepka treated him as an amusing sidekick, the rest of the field as irrelevant, and the history and future of major championship golf as his playthings.
He followed his opening-round 63 with a no-sweat 65. His 128 shot total is the lowest after two rounds in any major in history. He beat Woods by 17 shots over 36 holes while playing alongside a player once known as an intimidator.
After two of the most nonchalantly exceptional rounds in major history, Koepka will take a seven-shot lead into the weekend. According to Justin Ray of 15th Club, no player has led a major by seven shots after two rounds other than Henry Cotton at the U.S. Open in 1934, Babe Ruth’s last year with the Yankees. And no one has come back from seven shots on the weekend to win the PGA since 1989, the year before Koepka was born.
Koepka spoke respectfully about Woods, but did so in the way you might speak about your uncle, who was something to see back in the day.
“I’m so focused on myself,” Koepka said. “I learned that the first time I played with Tiger — this championship, I think in 2013. All I did was watch him for nine holes. That’s what I grew up doing. I grew up watching him on TV, and I spent the first nine holes, all I did was pay attention to every move he made. You know, whether he was just picking up his tee, whatever it was. And you can’t do that. You’ve got to focus on your own game.
“I’m so focused on what I’m doing now, it doesn’t matter who is in the group, where it is, but it’s fun to have that energy of him in the group for sure.”
The “energy” included one fan screaming at Koepka to “shank it” as he walked to the 18th tee. “I felt pretty confident I wasn’t going to shank the driver,” Koepka said. “I mean, that happens every time you play with Tiger. New York — it’s fun. It’s just something to laugh at.”
Koepka is trying to win his fourth major in eight starts. Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott are seven back. Daniel Berger is eight back. A group including Koepka’s workout buddy, Dustin Johnson, is nine back.
Scott shot a 64 and picked up only one stroke. “Well, it has to come to an end eventually, that good front-running,” Scott said with a laugh about Koepka’s ability to hold a lead. “Let’s hope it’s not 12 years like Tiger’s front-running lasted.”
One of the most interesting dynamics in golf is that “Dustin Johnson’s workout buddy” used to be his claim to fame. Now Koepka is poised to be recognized as the world’s best golfer, or at least the world’s best golfer in majors, if that distinction matters.
“What Brooksy did, he’s driving it 330 yards in the middle of the fairway, he’s got 9-irons when most of us are hitting 5-irons, 4-irons, and he’s putting well,” Woods said. “That adds up to a pretty substantial lead, and if he keeps doing what he’s doing, there’s no reason why he can’t build on this lead.
“The golf course is soft enough where the power helps. You know, relative to the field, I was about that long, early in my career. When you’re able to hit the ball much further than other players …
“He missed the ball in the correct spots, and it adds up to a big lead, and as I said, there’s no reason why he can’t increase this lead.”
Woods missed the cut. Koepka is primed to win in a runaway. If you’re looking for drama, the PGA might not qualify. If you’re looking for someone to dominate the way Woods once did, you, like Woods, might want to watch golf on TV this weekend.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org