(Reuters) – Brooks Koepka endured a frustrating day on the greens, shooting an even-par 70 that left him seven strokes behind first-round leader Keegan Bradley at the Canadian Open in Ontario on Thursday.
A week before going for a third straight U.S. Open title, there was nothing wrong with Koepka’s long game, but he had trouble gauging the speed of the Hamilton Golf & Country Club greens, which he said were slower than he expected.
American Bradley, at home on a course with lush rough, shot 63 to head Irishman Shane Lowry, South Korean Im Sung-jae, Canadian Nick Taylor, South African Erik van Rooyen and American Roberto Castro by one stroke.
Heavy rain on Wednesday left the short 6,967-yard course soft and allowed players to fire aggressively at the pins, though it was still challenging due to rough that proved penal for errant shots.
Rory McIlroy bounced back from a missed cut last week, shooting 67, while defending champion Dustin Johnson battled to a 71. It could have been worse for Johnson, though, as he was three over par after nine holes.
Koepka, McIlroy and Johnson are among the big names playing in Hamilton with an eye toward peaking at Pebble Beach next week.
Despite his moderate score, Koepka, in his first start since winning the PGA Championship three weeks ago, was happy with everything except his putting — and a wayward drive into a penalty area at the 10th.
“I liked the way I was hitting the putts, liked the way I was driving the ball, iron play was really good,” the American told Golf Channel.
“I gave myself some good chances and didn’t capitalize. Two birdies today, very easily could have been five or six, so disappointed with that but also at the same time pretty pleased.”
Northern Irishman McIlroy described his tournament debut as “satisfactory” though like Koepka he felt he had left some shots out on the course.
“I really feel like it’s the worst I could have shot,” he said.
“A big improvement from how I played last week at Memorial. The work I did over the weekend, I definitely hit it much better today off the tee and that was a big key.”
Bradley piled up seven birdies to set a cracking pace.
“It was just solid top to bottom,” said the world number 37.
“I’m pretty dialed in right now. Hit almost every fairway, almost every green and then holed some putts. With me it’s all about the putter. When that thing gets going I can do stuff like I did today.”
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Ed Osmond)