From golf’s turmoil comes opportunity.
Whereas the struggles of Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy could not have been foreseen in the opening round of this, the 98th US PGA Championship, that they transpired opened the door for others.
Chief among them is Jason Day, whose 68 was even more impressive given he had not set eyes on Baltusrol until 24 hours earlier. The world No1 reached 17 greens in regulation, a career high for his major championship rounds. The holing of only two putts from outside six foot emphasised just how low scoring the Australian’s start could have been. At three off the lead Day is ideally placed to defend successfully the title he claimed at Whistling Straits a year ago.
“I’m very excited about how I hit it today,” Day said. “I hit a lot of good quality shots. It hasn’t been like that lately so to be able to go out there and hit it exactly where I’m going, see the shot and what I need to do and actually execute it was exciting for me. It was really positive stuff going into the next three rounds.”
Ah, those next three rounds. Whenever they may begin and end. There is a serious threat all three will be disrupted by bad weather, with storms forecast to hit this leafy corner of New Jersey from early on Friday morning. Thunder is again predicted, albeit less strongly, on Saturday and Sunday. Should this transpire, the possibility of a Monday finish – as happened when Phil Mickelson won the US PGA here in 2005 – is live. The elements have had a freakish habit of playing havoc with majors in recent times.
If Day leaps out from the first-day leaderboard, he is not the only name worthy of attention. Jimmy Walker heads proceedings, courtesy of a 65 which arrived like a bolt from the blue in the context of his season’s results. Emiliano Grillo and Ross Fisher are one stroke further back with Andy Sullivan among those on minus three.
These totals were posted on Thursday morning. In the afternoon Martin Kaymer profited more than any other player thanks to a 66. The German, who won the US PGA in 2010, thereby defied not only the draw but crazily long pre-tournament odds of 66-1 by scoring back-to-back nines of 33 – crazy, that is, in respect of Kaymer’s ability.
Bookmakers are more fearful of Henrik Stenson, as a golfer who deals in profitable streaks. The Swede proved as much once again in his first outing since lifting the Claret Jug in inspired fashion at Royal Troon. Stenson is three under after an 18th-hole birdie.
Rickie Fowler’s 68 was timely given a strangely poor year in majors so far. Brooks Koepka, who continues to play through an ankle injury in an attempt to propel himself into the United States Ryder Cup team, matched that score. This was Koepka’s first full round in five weeks.
“I wouldn’t have played if it wasn’t a major,” admitted Koepka. “The ankle is taped up, I have a brace on it so by the 4th hole I could feel it. That’s kind of the real issue, the taping is really irritating.”
That annoyance was shared by others, if for different reasons. McIlroy has never quite offered convincing 2016 evidence that his putting is of the standard required to capitalise on routinely excellent work from tee to green as much as should be the case. Likewise, the Northern Irishman is not saved from trouble when putter is in hand. The two issues combined for McIlroy’s 74.
Dustin Johnson, of whom similarly lofty things were expected, was six over par by the time he took to the 12th tee. Two double bogeys and a ball blasted no further than the face of a fairway bunker had played their part in that. Johnson later played the 18th like a 12-handicapper, sealing a 77.
Jordan Spieth, even a day after his 23rd birthday, continues to look like a man at odds with the world. His level-par 70 was hardly a disaster given high afternoon scoring but so far there is little sign that the Texan can soon again reach the epic heights of 2015. Still, there is nothing wrong with Spieth’s determination; he offset a double bogey at the 7th with two birdies in the closing three holes.
The vagaries of the course were spelled out by Padraig Harrington. “It was like two different people did the setup,” said the 2008 champion. “The front nine had the easiest pin positions I’d ever seen in a major. Much tighter pins on the back nine. Still, you would love to play here every day of the week.”
If the heavens duly open, Harrington and co may have no choice.
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