Koepka firmly on the radar as he defends PGA title

Koepka firmly on the radar as he defends PGA title

The days of Brooks Koepka flying under the radar are officially over.

Koepka is halfway home to defending his PGA Championship title just as he successfully did at the U.S. Open last year.

Koepka made birdie on three of his first four holes en route to shooting a 5-under 65 and a seven-stroke lead over Australian Adam Scott and American Jordan Spieth at Bethpage State Park's Black Course.

Koepka set the 36-hole major championship scoring record with a total of 12-under 128, beating the Masters champion Tiger Woods, who missed the cut, by 17 strokes.

And yet to hear Koepka tell it, he didn't even have his 'A game' on Friday.

"Today was a battle. I didn't hit it very well," Koepka said. "To not have it and get that score out, I'm very proud of myself."

Koepka, who is seeking his fourth major title in his last eight major starts, also holds the PGA's 18- and 72-hole scoring records, and needs a 67 or better on Saturday to set the 54-hole scoring record.

"If some other guys did what I've been doing the past couple of years, their face would be on the dollar bill," Koepka told Golf Channel recently.

If Koepka continues to dominate Bethpage Black the way he has they can start bronzing his bust for the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla. Scott fired a 6-under 64, the low round of the day, and shared second with Spieth, who is bidding to complete the career Grand Slam with a victory but has yet to record a top-25 finish this season.

"You don't expect Brooks to fall at all so I thought I needed to be within five or six or seven to feel like I had a chance on the weekend," Spieth said.

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, good friend and lifting partner with Koepka, is among a group of five golfers at 4-under 136.

Three of the four Irish golfers in the field made the cut, which came at 4-over 144, with former PGA champion Padraig Harrington the lone casualty.

Graeme McDowell is the low man through 36 holes at 2-over 142 and said he needs only to find a few more fairways and hit his approaches a little closer to the hole to improve his chances for birdies.

His lone birdie was of the 2-putt variety at the par-5 fourth hole.

"It may be too much to ask on a golf course like this to beat Koepka when he's on his game but you never know," McDowell said.

A couple of 66s this weekend and who knows?

Rory McIlroy got off to a brutal start, playing his first three holes of the day in 5 over and conceded he was thinking of a weekend at home in Florida.

But his putter came alive on the final six holes and McIlroy rallied to shoot 1-over 71.

It was a performance made of grit and perseverance. What was McIlroy's motivation to grind to the finish?

"Pride. Just pride. Just trying to play a good round of golf and try to get something that's close to the best out of myself," McIlroy said.

"And, yeah, I don't like missing cuts. It's not something that I'm used to fortunately, and I wanted to be around for the weekend."

So did Shane Lowry, who took 3 putts from 8 feet on his final hole Thursday and dug himself a big hole with an opening 75.

On the range this morning, Lowry found a rhythm -- "a little pause on the way to my downswing" -- and rode it to a 1-under 69.

After a bogey at 16, Lowry's caddie told him he needed to birdie the final two holes.

He fired a 7-iron to 7 feet at 17 and converted the putt. It turned out a par at 18 got him to the weekend on the number at 4-over 144.

Woods took one stroke too many, shooting 3-over 73 on Friday.

A wayward tee game was his undoing. He hit only 3 of 14 fairways and took a total of 61 putts for the two rounds.

As he walked off the 18th green, he told Koepka, "Keep it going. Great playing, and finish it off strong."

"I just wasn't moving the way I needed to," Woods said afterward.

"That's the way it goes. There's going to be days and weeks where it's just not going to work, and today was one of those days."

Three of the 20 PGA clubs pros in the field -- Marty Jertson, Rob Labritz and Ryan Vermeer -- made the cut.

Jertson, who works for Ping Golf Co., called Bethpage Black "like skiing a double-black diamond," while Tyler Hall, a New Jersey club pro who didn't make the weekend, may have put it best.

Asked what it was like playing the PGA Championship not far from home, Hall said, "I didn't know my backyard was so difficult. I need to get the weed-whacker out."

Koepka has brought the beast that is the Black to its knees -- so far -- but it hasn't lowered his respect for the layout.

“This golf course is brutal,” he said. “It tests every facet of your game. You've got to drive the ball straight.

"It's long, so you've got to hit it far and really position yourself with some of these shots in.

"You can't miss. You can't take a shot off, and that's what I love.”

Despite a seven-stroke lead, Koepka hightailed it from the media center straight to the practice range, complaining that he wasn't hitting it too well.

Perhaps that can give the rest of the field a glimmer of hope.

"It has to come to an end eventually, that good front-running," Scott said.

"Let's hope it's not 12 years like Tiger's front-running lasted."

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