Kiwi Lee gets early start in pursuit of Koepka at PGA

Bethpage (United States) (AFP) –


New Zealand's unheralded Danny Lee, one shot off the overnight lead of defending champion Brooks Koepka, teed off Friday morning in hopes of an early charge at the PGA Championship.

The 28-year-old South Korean-born Kiwi, who fired a six-under par 64 on Thursday, was in the opening group off the 10th tee in cool conditions as the second round began to unfold at Bethpage Black.

Third-ranked Koepka, a two-time US Open champion who opened with a bogey-free course-record 63, was set for a late afternoon start alongside Masters winner Tiger Woods and 2018 British Open champion Francesco Molinari, who both opened on 72 to stand nine strokes adrift.

"That was one of the best rounds I've played as a professional," Koepka said.

Koepka sank a 40-foot birdie putt at the 10th, his opening hole of the first round, and unleashed a dominating performance, becoming only the third player to shoot 63 twice in majors after Fiji's Vijay Singh and Australian Greg Norman.

But along came Lee, whose only US PGA victory came at the 2015 Greenbrier Classic and whose lone European Tour title came as an 18-year-old amateur at the 2009 Johnnie Walker Classic in Australia.

The 119th-ranked Kiwi made eight birdies against two bogeys, closing with back-to-back birdies to keep pressure on Koepka in the fight for a $1.98 million top prize and the Wanamaker Trophy.

"Whenever I hit it on the fairway, I was able to convert that to the birdie," Lee said. "I made a lot of good up-and-downs even when I missed the fairway. I was able to go straight at it every single time."

Woods, however, struggled in his first competitive round since winning his 15th major title at last month's Masters, snapping an 11-year major win drought.

The 43-year-old US superstar opened with a double bogey at 10, added another at the par-3 17th and despite a 30-foot eagle putt at the par-5 fourth was unable to challenge Koepka after bogeys on three of the next four holes.

"I didn't take advantage of my opportunities," Woods said. "I didn't keep it together at the end."

Lee is the only player in the first five Friday groups off either tee to crack par in the opening round.

World number one Dustin Johnson, seeking his second major title, and fellow American Jordan Spieth, hoping to complete a career Grand Slam with a victory, were set for morning starts after opening on 69.

Also out early after one-under starts were five-time major winner Phil Mcikelson and 2015 PGA winner Jason Day of Australia.

Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, who closed with his lone birdie to open on 72 is another early starter.

Most of the first-day leaders will open late Friday, including England's Tommy Fleetwood, third on 67 in his bid to be the first Englishman in 100 years to win the PGA.

France's 115th-ranked Mike Lorenzo-Vera, still seeking his first European Tour win, shared fourth on 68 with South Korean Kang Sung and Americans Luke List, Chez Reavie and Pat Perez. Only Kang and Perez from that pack had early starts.

The only Frenchman to have won a major title was Arnaud Massey at the 1907 British Open.