SAN MARTIN (CBS/AP) — Jason Kokrak and Robert Garrigus are good friends who carry a big stick, both among the top 10 in driving distance last year on the PGA Tour. They are looking forward to playing together on the weekend in the Frys.com Open, mainly because they’re in the last group and right around the lead.
It might give them a chance to get to know the other guy in their group.
That would be Brooks Koepka, referred to in jest this summer at the British Open as the best American nobody knows.
He’s also the guy leading the tournament.
Koepka made eight birdies and an eagle — he missed 12-foot putts at two other eagle attempts — on his way to a 7-under 64 Friday to take a one-shot lead going into the weekend at CordeValle in the PGA Tour’s season opener.
It’s a big week for Koepka, who is between stops in Scotland and Shanghai. He already earned cards this year on the Challenge Tour and the European Tour, and a win this week would give him full status on the PGA Tour, which is where he wants to be.
The 23-year-old Floridian loves the international travel — he has been to 15 countries this year and has a full passport to show it — but he wants to be on the biggest tour, even on television so his parents don’t have to wake up in the early morning hours to watch.
“Yeah, it would be big,” Koepka said. “Obviously, be nice to win and get status over here. But you play good, everything kind of takes care of itself.”
He was at 11-under 131.
Kokrak showed off his power on the last hole with a 3-wood and a 6-iron inside a foot on the 556-yard ninth hole for a tap-in eagle and a 65. That left him one shot behind Koepka and in the final group with his big-hitting buddy Garrigus, who had a 63 and was tied for third at 9-under 133.
As for Koepka?
“I don’t know anything about him,” Kokrak said of the European Tour card-carrying member from Florida. “I saw him play at the PGA where he played pretty solid, I think. … I know Garrigus pretty well. We have the same agent. Should be a lot of fun. I’ve heard absolutely nothing bad about Brooks. Should be a good time.”
CordeValle has been a good time for all — or most, anyway.
The wind laid down Friday afternoon, and the cut was at even-par 142. Because there were 81 players at 142 or better, another cut was in play for Saturday.
Jim Herman had a 66 and joined Garrigus at 133, while Camilo Villegas shot 66 and was another shot behind at 8-under 134. Kevin Tway, son of former PGA champion Bob Tway, had a 65 and was among those at 135. Lurking five shots behind were the Japanese duo of Hideki Matsuyama (66) and Ryo Ishikawa (67).
The low round Friday came from Andres Gonzalez, who also could use a big week.
Gonzalez thought he had his card wrapped up at the Web.com Tour Championship until Lee Williams made a 55-foot birdie putt on the last hole, and Andrew Loupe made a 5-foot par putt right behind him to knock Gonzalez out. He’s only in the Frys.com Open because he finished in the top 10 in the previous PGA Tour event in August.
Gonzalez shot a 62 and was five shots out of the lead.
Koepka has had a year unlike most Americans. He already had to ask for 20 additional pages for his passport because the rest of them are full. He might need another for the Visa to get into other countries, like China.
Go back a year ago, and he was at Q-school where Jordan Spieth failed to advance. Spieth started out on the Web.com Tour, did well enough in his PGA Tour starts to get some money and momentum, and wound up with a win, a PGA Tour card, a trip to the Tour Championship and a spot on the Presidents Cup team.
Koepka, missing the amateur credentials and sponsor exemptions of Spieth, went a different direction.
South Africa. Switzerland. Kenya. Kazakhstan.
Much like the European Tour, its developmental circuit goes all over the world. Like the time in Kenya that his driver turned a 15-minute trip into more than three hours, stopping on side streets along the way and making Koepka more nervous than he has been behind the wheel of his luxury courtesy car at CordeValle this week.
Sure, he thought about how much more comfortable it would have been to try a Web.com Tour schedule mainly in America. But he wouldn’t trade the experience.
“You’re traveling the world at 23,” Koepka said. “That’s good. And it’s a good experience playing overseas. I think you’ll see a lot more guys doing it. … I think everybody wants to be a worldwide player. At least for me, that’s what I want to be able to do — play the European Tour and the PGA Tour. I just need to get established over here a little bit more.”
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