Well, all the talk was about history. It is doubly so now for Jordan Spieth who must achieve something he has never done before if he is to succeed at the PGA Championship and become the youngest player to claim all four major titles at the age of 24.
Spieth’s opening 72 leaves him five adrift of leader Thorbjorn Olesen at one over par, a first round station from which he has never won on the PGA Tour. On the plus side, there is arguably no-one in the game with greater mental capacity for turning disappointment into triumph, evidenced by the two birdies he made in his closing three holes to rescue his round.
“The goal was to grab the lead. It's much easier when you are on the front page of the leaderboard than it is coming from behind. Given it's the first round, I know I'm still in it but I've got to make up ground. If I'm five back at the start of the day, I've got to be less than five back after Friday to really feel like I can play the way this golf course needs to be played and still be able to win.”
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Spieth’s problems were largely on the greens, struggling uncharacteristically to find the pace on the new Bermuda grass. “It was just the putter. I can’t putt any worse than I did,” he said after taking 32 putts to get his ball around, and none longer than five feet.
“If I would have shot one over and didn't strike it well and everything was average, it would have been fine. But when I had the chances that I had and I just couldn't get the ball to go in on the greens, that is when I get the most frustrated.”
Rory McIlroy, favourite at the start of the tournament, saw little reward for another display of imperious driving. Having moved to within two of the lead with six to play, McIlroy dropped three shots in successive holes to close alongside Spieth on one over.
The rinsed tee shot at the reachable par-4 14th, which led to a double bogey six, was in part a reaction to the unforced error at the par-3 13th, where McIlroy overhit his chip from the bermuda greenside rough and missed the ten-footer coming back.
Perhaps McIlroy’s biggest sin came at the 11th. Once again it was a mistake with a wedge, the club that needs to become the wand it was if he is to bring his talent to bear more profitably on this stage. After blasting his tee shot 55 yards beyond the hole average, 296, he failed to find the green from 101 yards, his ball spinning back off the putting surface down the false front. Criminal, as he agreed.
“I didn't expect it to spin back as much as it did. It’s just when you get into a mind-set. I see a good score out there. For a stretch of that round, I drove it really well. I was hitting the ball well. I could see birdies. I can see a low one out there. It's just a matter of not shooting yourself in the foot too often, like I did today.”
The error at the 14th was ultimately the shot that scarred his round, his 3-wood finding water down the left while attempting to reach the 354-yard green in one. Pity since McIlroy uterly schooled his playing partners, Rickie Fowler and Jon Rahm, off the tee.
“I started well, two under through 12, coming through part of the course where you're looking to pick a couple of shots up on 14 and 15. Played that stretch of holes, 13, 14, 15, in 3-over. So if I just could have had that three-hole stretch back, but I think other than that, I played nicely. Did what I needed to do. Birdied the par 5s, birdied the holes that you should birdie,” he said.
“I'm just disappointed with that three-hole stretch, but right in it. It wasn't very easy. It was tough. Greens were difficult. Greens got very grainy as the day went on, as well. If you just hit a putt a tiny bit off line, it exaggerated it.”
The McIlroy group had the lowest aggregate score of the day, and would have been even better had Fowler not had a triple-bogey seven at the fifth, where he took two to get out of a fairway bunker. As it was his 69 for a two under total leaves him bang in the mix, just two off the lead and one ahead of Rahm, who was left to rue back-to-back bogeys entering the ‘Green Mile’ the testing three holes that complete the course.
Should Thorbjorn Olesen maintain control of his driver, a club that has given him nightmares at times this summer, he will fancy his chances of maintaining his upward trend after closing with a one-shot lead - alongside Kevin Kisner - over a group at three under par that includes US Open champion Brooks Koepka.
“I had a couple of Top-10s in majors. I've had some good rounds in majors, and I feel like I've learned a lot over the years playing quite a few now. I feel like I'm better prepared to be in contention over the weekend and have a chance to win.
“I feel more confident with myself and my game than I probably did a few years ago. I just have to stay relaxed the next few days, still trying to keep the ball in the fairway, and then I know I can hit it close and make some birdies.”
World no.1 Dustin Johnson, and Jason Day, who held that ranking at the turn of the year, are nicely poised at one under par, but Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els, both making their 100th appearance at a major this week, are facing an almighty challenge to make the weekend after opening with a 79 and 80 respectively.
Spare a thought, too, for defending champion Jimmy Walker. At least he had a birdie in his 81, which is more than Mickelson managed. And since tradition does not require him to hang around to present the trophy to the winner, he can make his escape today, assuming he does not lower the record score at a major (62).
The British effort was led by Paul Casey with a 69, followed by Tommy Fleetwood on one under par after an opening 70. There was good news, too, for Danny Willett, who has endured a torrid run since his Masters victory last year.
Having separated from Pete Cowen’s coaching stable in favour of Sean Foley, who spent four years rebuilding the swing and career of Tiger Woods following his marriage break-up in 2009, Willett is looking for confidence as much as technical assistance, and will be buoyed by his two-over par 73 after reaching the turn three over par.
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