• PGA Tour­na­ment first-round cov­er­age.

Seek­ing three-peat, Koepka among nine a stroke back; Tiger three be­hind after a 68

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - BY DOUG FER­GU­SON

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.

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