Brooks Koepka couldn’t shift out of neutral in his first round as the top-ranked golfer in the world.
Koepka cruised to a four-shot victory last week at the CJ Cup in South Korea, a result that helped him supplant Dustin Johnson as world No. 1. He remained in Asia for this week’s WGC-HSBC Champions but managed only a single birdie en route to an even-par 72 that left him eight shots off the early lead.
“I felt like I played good enough to shoot 4 or 5 under par,” Koepka told reporters. “It was those momentum-building shots.”
One such shot that Koepka referenced was his approach to the par-5 18th, where he could only watch as his ball spun back off the green into the water, turning a likely birdie into a scrambling par. On the next hole, a birdie putt hit the hole and spun back out.
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“It would be nice to have those and feel like you’re making a lot of progress out here, because it was a tough day,” Koepka said.
Koepka has experience around Sheshan International Golf Club, where he tied for second a year ago. But with the winds up during the opening round, his lone circle came on No. 16 while he dropped his only shot of the day on the par-3 fourth.
Despite his opening-round struggles, Koepka is still likely to retain the world No. 1 ranking this week, since No. 2 Dustin Johnson fared even worse, shooting a 2-over 74. Defending champ Justin Rose, who could pass Koepka with a T-2 finish or better, is tied for 10th after a 3-under 69.
“The goal was to get to No. 1, and once you get here, you just need to stay here,” Koepka said. “That’s something I think every player dreams of, and every player wants to do, but it’s even better when I’ve got my good friend pushing me.”