FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Brooks Koepka wasn’t quite as immaculate Friday in the PGA Championship as he had been during his record-setting 63 in the opening round.
But he did remain utterly merciless.
Koepka broke several records—as well as the hearts of all but a few contenders—when he again bludgeoned supposedly fierce Bethpage Black with a five-under 65 and seized a commanding lead in his quest to successfully defend a major title for the second time in as many years, a feat no one has achieved before.
His 12-under 128 total not only eclipsed the 36-hole scoring record in any major championship, but it also gave him a seven-stroke lead, the largest after two rounds in PGA Championship history. Nick Price led by five shots through 36 holes in 1994 at Southern Hills in Tulsa and eventually won by six. At this rate, Rory McIlroy’s record eight-shot victory in 2012 at Kiawah Island is in serious jeopardy.
So are a lot of egos.
“Yeah, I’d like to see that lead grow as large as it possibly can,” Koepka said unabashedly after holding at least a share of the lead in a major for the 11th time in the last 33 rounds. “I still have to go out there and do what I'm supposed to do. Keep putting the ball in the right spots and make sure that you don’t make any double bogeys, and I should have a good chance of winning the championship.”
A distant second at 135 are three-time major winner Jordan Spieth, who had a 66 on Friday, and Adam Scott, the 2013 Masters champion, who carded the day’s low round, a 64. Just 17 players were within 10 strokes of Koepka.
Last year at Bellerive, Koepka, the two-time reigning U.S. Open champion, outdueled Tiger Woods for a two-stroke victory. This year, playing alongside Woods, he was 17 shots better as the Masters champion struggled with most phases of his game and missed the cut by one at 5-over 145.
“What Brooksy did,” Woods said, “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. 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.”
Koepka, 29, who was runner-up to Woods at Augusta National last month, was OK with most of the immense gallery pulling for Woods, his Jupiter, Fla., neighbor. He expected it. And he embraced it. And he gave them a show that was, well, Tiger-like.
“It’s always fun to play with him and play in front of a large crowd and kind of showcase your stuff,” he said. “I think that’s fun. You know you have to bring your game when you’re with him.”
Strangely, Koepka didn’t have his best stuff on Friday. He made his first bogey in 28 holes—and his first bogey in 41 holes in the PGA dating to last year—at the exacting par-4 10th, and he made another when he three-putted from 67 feet at the par-3 17th. Somehow, he countered those missteps with seven birdies while fighting his swing. Of the nine players who opened a major with a 63, Koepka’s 65 was the best score in the following round … by four shots.
“This probably sounds bad, but today was a battle,” he conceded a bit sheepishly. “I didn’t strike it that good. I was leaking a few to the right. But … the way I hung in there today and battled it, I think that was probably more impressive than yesterday, not having your A game but still being able to shoot a great score. I was very, very pleased with the way I played today.”
This will not please his peers very, very much. More ego bruising. Didn’t have his A-game. And is cruising. Another Tiger-like deed checked off.
Did the golf world just witness a passing of the torch from Woods to Koepka? The notion only made the latter man grin. He remained silent for an awkward few seconds.
“I mean, I’ve got 11 more to go, or 12 more to go before that happens,” Koepka finally offered.
He appears poised to get at least one win closer after this weekend.