FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Having described feeling sort of languid in missing the cut at 5 over par Friday evening, Tiger Woods veered to the subject engulfing this 101st PGA Championship, the subject about the giant gobbling up the premises. Pretty soon, an ear might have started registering Woods’s words as some sort of echo.
“What Brooksy did, he’s driving it 330 yards in the middle of the fairway,” Woods said of Brooks Koepka and Koepka’s virtuoso seven-shot lead at 12 under par after two rounds. “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.”
While some of those phrases and clauses seemed to ring straight out of Woods’s masterly past, when golf nuts made such statements about him, they didn’t conclude the flashbacks. For some, following Koepka, Woods and Francesco Molinari around the slopes of Bethpage Black in the second round Friday might have unearthed memories of following Woods around Pebble Beach at the 2000 U.S. Open (which Woods won by 15 shots), when the scoreboard just looked funky and seemed inconceivable.
Tally up the firsts and lowests: Koepka’s 36-hole score of 128 after his 63 on Thursday and his 65 on Friday became the lowest in the history of the PGA Championship and of all golf majors. His seven-shot lead over two resurgent sorts, Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott, became the largest two-round lead in PGA Championship history. If he can hang on and win somehow — and factoring in his 2017 and 2018 U.S. Open titles — he will become the first male player to hold back-to-back titles in two majors concurrently.
For further throwback, get a listen to this comment from the 29-year-old Koepka as he overshadows the most skilled men in the world at a pursuit seen for hundreds of years as one of humankind’s most irritating. “This probably sounds bad, but today was a battle,” he said. “I didn’t strike it that good. I was leaking a few to the right.”
After a round so sublime the seven birdie putts required only three feet, nine, one, four, 3½ , five and 11, that, too, sounded like some voice out of yore, maybe from around the turn of the century — oh, yeah, that’s right, Woods.
It’s the sound of someone who expects from himself such rarity. Apart from the two U.S. Opens and the one PGA that Koepka has won within merely his past seven major tries, this event feels less like a competition than a soaring art show. The throngs following Koepka’s group mostly because of Woods and Woods’s astonishing Masters title last month wound up seeing something else astonishing, a hard game played at a level seldom reached.
Walking around with the galleries, it feels like Pebble Beach, only a notch more vulgar.
Koepka has grown up into something towering.
“Not only the four out of eight” potential major titles, Woods said, “but also it’s the journey that he’s [had] to get where he’s at, to go to the Challenge Tour, the European Tour. He paid his dues. He found a game and a dedication that he needed to play well, and he’s doing that. And everyone’s different. Everyone peaks differently and does things differently, and he’s found what he needs to do for himself and at, what is he, 29?”
“I’ve gone these 36 holes,” Koepka said, “and I’ve really — I couldn’t tell you what shots Frankie or Tiger hit. I mean, I watch [Woods], but it really just doesn’t register of what’s going on. . . . I’m so focused on myself, and I learned that the first time I played with Tiger, this championship, I think in 2013. All I did was watch him for nine holes. That’s what I grew up doing. I grew up watching him on TV, and I spent the first nine holes, all I did was pay attention to every move he made, you know, whether he was just picking up his tee, whatever it was.
“And you can’t do that. You’ve got to focus on your own game.”
Half-notably, some veritable zombies reappeared Friday. Spieth shot a 4-under-par 66 to climb within two shots of Koepka, at 5 under to Koepka’s 7 under, before Koepka even got started. That came as quite a bolt with Spieth’s rugged season failing to reach any top 20 and Spieth giving patient descriptions of the technical swing woes from which he is recovering that sound like a peculiar form of agony. “I’m not 100 percent hitting it as well as I did a couple years ago, but I’m hitting it a lot better than I did the end of last year, beginning of this year,” he said.
Later, Scott, the 2013 Masters champion who has failed to menace in most majors since, finished a torrid 64 to join Spieth.
None of it mattered. Koepka got going, hit the first drive 331 yards and birdied three of the first four holes. He birdied three of four again on the back nine. He birdied both of the par-5s that had annoyed him Thursday. He went 28 holes before suffering one bogey, which finally visited him on No. 10. He putted, well: “I feel like every time I slide the putter right behind the ball, it’s lined up perfectly, and I don’t — I don’t have to do anything. I don’t have to kind of adjust. I feel as comfortable as I’ve ever felt putting this week.”
So on a day when Woods wound up saying he “didn’t do all the little things I need to do correctly,” and said, “You know, I’m the Masters champion and I’m 43 years old, and I feel like that’s a pretty good accomplishment,” somebody asked Koepka about succeeding Woods somehow.
“I mean, I’ve got 11 more to go,” Koepka said, referring to Woods’s 15 major titles, until Koepka caught himself and said, “Or 12 more to go before that happens.” His initial error had been understandable.