The PGA generated plenty of attention for its decision to extend special exemptions beyond its traditional top 100 in the world rankings to LIV players like Talor Gooch, Dean Burmester and David Puig, but it was a pair of LIV’s auto-qualifying major champions fresh and not-so-fresh who commanded more space on the leaderboard after the first round.

Defending champion (and the most recent LIV winner) Brooks Koepka played to methodical type, marching along at one under before hitting a 5-iron second to three feet and making eagle on No. 7 (his 16th) and following with a 40-foot bomb for birdie on the par-3 eighth.

“[Caddie Ricky Elliott] kept telling me all day to stay patient and wait your turn, and that’s one of the things I think I do exceptionally well,” said Koepka. “Sometimes you have to wait your turn and catch a run like I did with that eagle-birdie.”

Koepka’s 67 was hardly a surprise, but Martin Kaymer’s 68 was nothing less than an awakening from hibernation. The 2010 PGA and 2014 U.S. Open champion has never finished better than 11th in a LIV event since joining in 2022 and hasn’t made a cut in a major since the 2021 U.S. Open. If Koepka’s round was a study in patience, Kaymer’s was all frenetic energy. He offset four bogeys with seven birdies and blunted losing 1.4 strokes on the greens by gaining a field-best 4.9 with his approach shots.

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Among the seven LIV players who got special exemptions, two-time LIV winner Dean Burmester and Lucas Herbert shot 69, while Gooch shot an even-par 71. Niemann (72) Puig (73) and Adrian Meronk (74) were further off the pace. Two-time Korn Ferry winner Tim Widing, who also received a PGA special exemption, shot 70. And while co-mingling the competing tours using a fractured ranking system—at least four times a year—is still a work in progress, it isn’t hard to parse the PGA’s intent.

“We have the ability to lean in and really pick the best field in golf,” PGA head Seth Waugh said Tuesday. “That’s never been, frankly, more important than it is now.”

Main image: Christian Petersen