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Seeking three-peat, Koepka among nine a stroke back; Tiger three behind after a 68
SAN FRANCISCO — Jason Day took his first step toward a return to the spotlight in the majors Thursday at the PGA Championship. Brooks Koepka never seems to leave. Day took advantage of a course at Harding Park that never felt this accommodating during the practice rounds. With only a mild breeze and a welcome appearance by the sunshine, he finished his bogey-free round of 5-under-par 65 with an approach to six feet for birdie on the ninth hole, the toughest on the course at 518 yards.
That gave him a share of the lead with Brendon Todd, whose round was equally impressive. Playing in the afternoon, as the wind strengthened, Todd made seven birdies and finished with a 10-foot par putt.
They were one shot ahead of nine players, a group that included major champions from years gone by and the one guy — Koepka — who shows up at every major, no matter what kind of shape his game is in.
Koepka is the two-time defending champion and has the opportunity this week to become only the seventh player in the 160-year history of major-championship golf to win the same major three years in a row. It last was done 64 years ago.
He’s still a little annoyed that he missed a similar chance last year in Pebble Beach, California, when he finished second in his bid for a third consecutive U.S. Open.
Koepka hasn’t won in more than a year. His left knee has been bothering him since last August. No matter. After a slow start, he powered his way to six birdies and made a series of key putts for par — and one for bogey — that gave him an ideal start.
He was at 4-under 66 with eight others, a list that included former major winners Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer and Zach Johnson, rising star Xander Schauffele and tour rookie Scottie Scheffler.
‘‘It’s only 18 holes right now,’’ Koepka said. ‘‘I feel good. I feel confident. I’m excited for the next three days. I think I can definitely play a lot better. Just need to tidy a few things up, and we’ll be there come Sunday on the back nine.’’
Tiger Woods ran off three birdies in a four-hole stretch toward the end of his round that offset a few mistakes. He opened with a 2-under 68, a solid start for someone who has played in only one tournament in the last six months.
Woods put a new putter into play — this one is a little longer, which he says helps him practice longer without straining his surgically repaired back — and it came in handy. He made a 30-foot birdie putt early but was most pleased with a 20-foot par putt on the 18th as he made the turn. And he was thrilled with the weather.
‘‘I thought anything today in the red was going to be good,’’ Woods said.
In this case, there was a lot of good to go around. Just less than a third of the field — 47 players — broke par.
That included Bryson DeChambeau, who broke his driver on the seventh hole after another vicious swing. Oddly enough, it finally gave way when he leaned on it ever so slightly while picking up his tee.
DeChambeau was given permission to replace it and challenged for the lead — he was 4 under through 10 holes — until he slid back to a 68.
Tiger Woods hits from a bunker on the 14th hole during the first round Thursday of the PGA Championship at Harding Park in San Francisco.