Brooks Koepka soared to the top of the leaderboard on Thursday at the 101st PGA Championship, cruising through a bogey-free round of 63 that marks the course record at Bethpage Black and creates some other history as well. The way Koepka elevates his game for majors has been a talking point of the week, and Thursday's round only added more evidence to the notion that no one is better on golf's biggest stages.
It was the lowest opening round by a defending PGA champion and made Koepka the first player to ever record multiple 63s in any single major (he shot a 63 last year en route to winning at Bellerive). He also became only the third player to record multiple 63s in majors across his career, joining Greg Norman and Vijay Singh.
The scary thing? Koepka could have scored even lower.
"This is a crazy day," Koepka told Amanda Ballionis after the round. "It could have been a helluva round. Don't get me wrong, it was great, I would take it any day. But I could clean a few things up."
Paired with Tiger Woods and Francesco Molinari, Koepka started his day on the back nine with one of the hardest stretches on the golf course. But while the 10th, 11th and 12th were all taking a bite out of Woods and Molinari, Koepka avoided big numbers and quickly emerged as the leader between these three reigning major champions. He had to grind a little through pars on Nos. 11-12 and on the par-5 13th after hitting his drive into a fairway bunker, but when Koepka's long birdie putt at 14 dropped, his confidence surged and he joined a share of the lead.
"My putter was hot today, I'm not going to lie," Koepka said. "It hasn't felt that good in a long time."
A birdie on 18 gave Koepka a 32 on the back nine, the tougher of the two sides, and sent him to the 1st tee at the top of the leaderboard with all the momentum in the world. Koepka went on to birdie four holes on the front to best his 32 on the back with a 31, wrapping it up with a long birdie putt on his final hole of the day.
The conversation regarding where Koepka stands among the game's greats has been contained to major championships as if that's some kind of asterisk on his profile. But if Koepka burns down Bethpage Black for a fourth major championship, we are going to have to move the goalposts.
In real time, Koepka is making the case as one of the best major championship golfers in the sport's history. This run, should it continue with a win, is going to start getting compared to what Tiger Woods did in the early 2000s.
Tiger's presence at this event has been the story coming off the heels of his epic Masters win. Having him in the same group as Koepka here in the first two days has only strengthened the connection to Woods' run at the beginning of his professional career. If we have hit that point, then it's time to look past the "majors only" clarification: it's time to consider Brooks Koepka as the best player, major or not, in golf right now.