KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — Keegan Bradley felt so good from the moment he teed off, he couldn’t wait to get on with his 18 holes in Thursday’s PGA Championship opening round at Kiawah Island.
Brooks Koepka, on the other hand, was so ticked off after his first hole, he probably wanted to toss his entire bag into the nearby Atlantic Ocean.
Both, playing in the early wave of tee times, finished with stellar 3-under-par 69s to share the early lead with Viktor Hovland and Aaron Wise on a typically windy day on the Ocean Course.
Those four had an early lead on defending champion Collin Morikawa, who finished 2-under but lamented three missed putts from inside of five feet on his final nine. Martin Laird and Cameron Tringale were also 2-under playing in the morning wave.
Bradley felt like he was in the zone from his first swing. Koepka double-bogeyed his first hole of the day, No. 10, with both mental and physical slip-ups.
“I played so good today,” Bradley said. “I hit the ball about as good as I can hit it. Some days you get out there, and you go, ‘I’m going to aim it at that tree and draw it off that tree’ and it comes right up that tree and does what you think. Today was one of those days.’’
For Koepka, it started off looking like one of those days with 6 on the par-4 10th.
“It wasn’t ideal, the start,” Koepka said. “You can’t do that stuff if you want to win. You’ve just got to be more focused. I don’t know if that’s a lack of not playing or what. I don’t know. It was just stupid. A poor club choice off 10. I thought 3-wood would have carried, but it didn’t. I also barely hit the face.
“The first rule is, if you’re in trouble, get the hell out. I couldn’t reach the green. It was a bad lie. Didn’t know what I was doing. Just tried to hit a pull sand wedge up by the green instead of just chopping it out. So mental mistake there. (I) deserved every bit of that double bogey.”
The gaffe, though, “helped get the round going and got me focused.”
Bradley, the former St. John’s star who won the 2011 PGA Championship, got away with his worst swing of his day on his final hole, No. 18, when he pulled his tee shot into some corporate suites.
He got a free drop from there and saved par.
“I made one sort of bad swing on 18 but got away with it and made a great par on 18,” Bradley said. “It was a fun day. The course is nerve-racking and difficult to go out there and shoot that score, I’m proud of that.”
Koepka has to be proud not only of recovering from that double bogey on his first hole but with the fact that he’s playing this well just a couple months removed from knee surgery. The only two tournaments Koepka has played since his March surgery were the Masters and last week’s Byron Nelson, and he missed the cut in both.
“Every day gets a little bit better, but I don’t notice it,” Koepka said of his knee. “I notice it kind of more over weeks. Week to week, I’ll notice it gets a lot better. I mean, it feels fine right now.
“It’s a major. I’m going to show up. I’m ready to play. I’ve been itching to do this since Augusta. I mean, I feel so much better now. I don’t need to be a 100-percent to be able to play good.”
Koepka, winner of the 2018 and 2019 PGA Championships, embraces the difficult course conditions this week more than a lot of his fellow competitors.
“I love it when it’s difficult,” he said. “I think that’s why I do so well in the majors. I just know mentally I can grind it out. Like when it’s windy like this, it’s not so much putting, it’s more about ball striking, and I felt like I struck it really well today. I feel like that’s why I’ve done really well.
“You’ve got to understand that sometimes par is a good score.”
And 3-under is better.