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PGA Championship 2019: Tiger Woods' topsy-turvy Round 1 leaves him 9 back of Brooks Koepka

Sporting News — (Bob Hille)

Tiger Woods wobbled early in Round 1 of the PGA Championship, recovered with a run of red numbers midway through his day but then settled for a roller-coaster 2-over 72 Thursday at Bethpage Black in his first start since winning the Masters in April.

A day that could've been much better but also much worse, put him far back of the early leader: Brooks Koepka, one of his playing partners.

"It wasn't as clean as I'd like to have it for sure," Woods said. "Didn't get off to a very good start. … And then found my way back around. Got it back under par for the day, and let a couple slip away with a couple bad putts and a couple mistakes at the end."

Meanwhile, Koepka, the defending PGA champion and winner of the past two U.S. Opens, fired an opening salvo to the rest of the field, going low on Day 1. His 7-under 63 set a torrid pace, particularly on a course as long and difficult as Bethpage Black, especially given the conditions, and put Woods nine shots adrift of the lead only 18 holes in.

"We'll see what the golf course offers up (Friday)," Woods said. "It changed quite a bit from when we played this morning to this afternoon. The greens got a lot faster. We'll see how it dries out over the next few days. I don't see them cutting the rough down, so it's just going to place another premium on driving the ball in the fairway to get at some of these flags."

Woods found out early that recent frequent rain on Long Island, New York, was going to make the rough particularly punishing on an already tough course.

"You put it in the rough here … you're going to be laying up," Koepka said, a comment made in general about conditions but one his playing partner lived out.

Multiple times during the day Woods was wayward off the tee and forced to hack out of the lush grass, putting unwanted pressure on him just to make par.

Starting at No. 10 with Francesco Molinari and Koepka, Woods stumbled out of the gate, finding himself plus-2 after only one hole with a double-bogey to start.

Another double-bogey later on his first nine left him struggling to not shoot himself out of the year's second major before it was really started.

It was just the opening sketches on a scorecard dotted with squares (bogey or worse) and circles (birdie or better). Across the 18 holes, in fact, Woods carded only nine pars, with four of those within his first five holes. In contrast, Koepka mixed seven birdies with 11 pars as he carved up the notoriously tough track.

"I felt like it's not that hard to make bogeys out here," Woods said, "but it's hard to make birdies."

Woods finally jump-started his round with two birdies to start his second nine and then punctuated his turnaround with an eagle at No. 4 to temporarily turn the early bleeding into red numbers for the day at minus-1. At that point, despite making his turn at 3 over, Woods found himself in fifth place at minus-1 after his first eagle in a PGA Championship since 2001.

But he let that momentum slip away with back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 7 and 8, his 16th and 17th holes of the day, and settled for par on No. 9 to finish a 2 over.

Woods appeared to right himself with the four pars early in the day and then took advantage of his first good look at birdie on the par-4 15th hole by rolling in a 15-footer breaking left to right.

However, he found a bunker on the 199-yard par-3 14th and had to blast out from an awkward stance but compounded his problems by being over-aggressive with his par putt. After running the putt some 10 feet past the hole, he missed his bogey putt coming back.

A good approach to 20 feet on 18 went for naught as Woods missed the birdie putt and made the turn at plus 3.

Like Woods, Molinari, the British Open champion, finished his day at plus 2 and has work to do if he's to contend.

Koepka's nearest early challenger was Tommy Fleetwood of England, who shot a 3-under 67 before the afternoon wave of players, including Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, got their rounds fully started.

"Brooks does a very good job at majors. I think we all know that," Fleetwood said. "I sure wouldn't be surprised if he was still there on Sunday."