- Another major, another charge up the leaderboard for Brooks Koepka, who is firmly in the hunt after shooting a three-under 68 on Thursday. He may not win at Portrush, but he isn't going away either.
PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — Rain fell hard here Thursday, and in a stunning upset, a few drops actually hit Brooks Koepka. Not that he cared.
“It doesn’t matter,” Koepka said. “Everybody else has got to deal with it. You just push on and see where I’m at and throw the rain gear on and hide under the umbrella a little bit, and when it’s my turn, I’ll just go out and hit one.”
Koepka had sort of a rough day, in his telling: “Didn’t really make any putts. Didn’t take advantage of anything to really go low.” He also shot three-under 68, putting him two strokes off the lead, and if you are still keeping track of Slights Against Brooks Koepka, ignore the next sentence.
When Koepka finished talking to the media, Jordan Spieth took his place, and the crowd of reporters thinned considerably.
Predicting the winner of a major championship after one round is a fool’s errand. (Predicting the winner of a major championship before it starts, however, is a lot of fun, though also a fool’s errand.) We don’t know if Koepka will win the British Open for the first time and a major for the fifth. The answer, as it was after three rounds at the U.S. Open last month, is: probably not. There are too many great players clustered with him.
But we can say this: This Open, like seemingly every major championship these days, is a matchup of Brooks Koepka vs. the World.
He has been that good, that many times, and was that good again Thursday. Rory McIlroy shot himself out of it. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson shot themselves out of it. David Duval shot himself almost out of Northern Ireland entirely; the 2001 champion shot a 91, which included a 14 on the par-five seventh, and let’s pause for a monet to digest that.
The saddest part is that Duval was really quite sure he had only shot a 13. He signed the card for 13. He talked about 13. I didn’t really understand him; it was like somebody verbally recreating a 13-car accident, only to realize later that they left out a car. Duval said something about hitting two bad tee shots, and I thought, “Oh, so that’s what happened,” but this was sort of the preamble. He got to the second one and hit the wrong ball, then had to take a cart back to the tee to hit another, then needed six shots to finish.
Duval handled all the questions admirably afterward. He also seemed surprised by his lousy round. He said he has been playing well lately. Well, every golfer thinks there is a better golfer lurking inside him. The truth is that Duval is not a PGA Tour-quality golfer anymore, and a 71 from him would have been more surprising than his 91.
We bring all this up because Duval was once the No. 1 golfer in the world, and he was, for a time, Tiger Woods’s main rival. That ended for him earlier than anybody anticipated, for a variety of reasons. But Duval is a pretty stark reminder that greatness slips away from everybody, eventually.
It slipped away from Spieth, though he will almost certainly get it back. It sort of slipped away from McIlroy for a while. It will slip away from Koepka, too. He will look up one day and realize he hasn’t won a major in two years.
In the meantime, he is at the peak of his golfing powers. He may be the only guy here who absolutely knew he would play well. It’s a major. He plays well in those. He didn’t have to worry about his prep, how he did in his last tournament, or his back or his wrist or the wind or the roll of the greens. That’s KOEPKA on the leaderboard after the first round of the tournament. He is used to it by now. They all are.