Major winners to the fore after first round in US PGA Championship
Major golf's eagerly-awaited return didn't disappoint as the first round of the 102nd US PGA Championship delivered a strong leaderboard at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.
Five former major winners are either leading or within one stroke of the lead, the most since the 2005 US PGA Championship and just two less than the record in the 1999 Masters.
Australian Jason Day, the winner of this event in 2015, shares the lead with American on five-under-par, with Brooks Koepka, Martin Kaymer, Zach Johnson and Justin Rose all in a group lurking one stroke behind.
Gary Woodland, another major champion, sits on three-under, one ahead of Tiger Woods, Shane Lowry, Adam Scott and Patrick Reed, all other players to have tasted success in the game's biggest events.
Former world No 1 Day carded a bogey-free effort as he returned to his best form, having been hampered troubled by back problems in recent years.
"You're always cautious of doing certain things, bending over, but I pretty much lather up in Deep Heat and I go ... I try and burn the skin off my back, to be honest," he joked after carding his lowest first-round score in a major.
Todd, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour this season, signed for six birdies in his opening effort, having led last week's WGC in Memphis heading into the final round before losing out to Justin Thomas.
On a day when Scottish No 1 Bob MacIntyre had to settle for a 73 after being one-under early on, Koepka made an impressive start to his bid for an historic third straight victory in the PGA of America event.
Starting on the back nine, Koepka failed to take advantage of the par-5 10th and dropped a shot on the next, but then birdied the 13th, 14th, 16th and 18th courtesy of some splendid approach play.
A bogey on the first slowed his momentum, but the 2013 Scottish Challenge winer bounced back with birdies on the second and fourth and declared himself satisfied with his opening effort.
"I feel good. I feel confident. I'm excited for the next three days," said Koepka, who is bidding to become only the seventh player in the 160-year history of major championship golf to win the same major three years in a row.
"I think I can definitely play a lot better, and just need to tidy a few things up, and we'll be there come Sunday on the back nine."
Koepka's first attempt to win the same major three years in a row came up just short in last year's US Open and he added: "I think that drove me nuts a little bit. I played good golf, but I just got beat by Gary (Woodland).
"To do it here would be special. I think there's, what, six guys that have ever won three in a row. Yeah, not a bad list to be on.
"The whole goal every time we tee it up in a major is to win them. The whole year is spent prepping for these four."
Kaymer has not tasted victory since claiming his second major title in runaway fashion at Pinehurst in 2014 and had only played one event, missing the cut, since early March due to the coronavirus lockdown.
"Expectations were very low, to be honest, because I didn't really know where
my game was at," said Kaymer, who won this event in 2010 at Whistling Straits.
"Obviously I knew I was playing OK, but on a golf course like this, OK play doesn't really get you far.
"On the way home (on Wednesday) I didn't feel that good. I was not that happy for some reason. And then I thought I needed to lift my spirits a little bit. And I went on YouTube and I found that video, I think it's an hour and 45 minutes or so, of us playing the back nine at the US Open from 2014.
"I was trying to get some kind of positivity in my game because it hasn't been much recently because of no play.
"But definitely that video helped me to believe that my putting was good enough; that my ball-striking was good enough, even though it's a few years back, but it's always nice to remember those moments and feel the same that you felt that day.
"I know you shouldn't live in the past, but if the past can help you in the
present moment, I'll take it."
Rose, the 2012 US Open champion, birdied three of his last six holes to sit in a group that also includes Frenchman Mike Lorenzo-Vera.
"Nine times out of 10 we walk off slightly frustrated because we've left a few out there, but today was one of those days where I got all of it out," admitted Rose.
"I kind of felt like it was a very disciplined, major championship-style round of golf, just respecting the golf course. As well as knowing that it was gettable, I also kind of respected that you had to play smart golf, too."
Woods was two under par after four holes, fell back to level par and then fired three birdies in four holes before making a bogey on his penultimate hole at a venue where he won a WGC event in 2005 and compiled a 5-0 record in the 2009 Presidents Cup.
The 15-time major winner, who is using a slightly longer putter this week to ease the strain on his troublesome back, said: "It's difficult for me to bend over at times, and so practising putting, I don't spend the hours I used to.
"It wasn't unusual for me to spend four, five, six hours putting per day. I certainly can't log that with my back being fused. Most of the guys on the Champions Tour have gone to longer putters as they have gotten older, because it's easier to bend over, or not bend over."
Lowry, the reigning Open champion, came home in two-under and was pleased with his day's work alongside Koepka and Woodland.
"The atmosphere is different, but it still gets my attention," said the Irishman, the last player to win a men's major 13 months ago. "I don't know about the other guys, I can only speak for myself going out there, but driving to the course this morning, this week gets my attention.
"I was feeling like I was driving to a big event and on the first tee I was feeling it a little bit. I was kind of anxious to get going, like I would be at any major.
"This is a huge event. It doesn't matter whether it's 50,000 people here or no one. It would be nicer if there was 50,000 people here, but we all know how big this event is and how much it would mean to the winner at the end of the week.
Playing alongside Woods, Rory McIlroy and world No 1 Thomas shot 70 and 71 respectively, McIlroy battling back from a hat-trick of bogeys on his front nine with three birdies in four holes around the turn.
"It was there for the taking today," said McIlroy, who recorded the last of his four major wins in this event six years ago. "I feel like I definitely could have been a few shots lower, but I sort of grinded it out and, with how I hit it on the back nine, even par actually wasn't too bad.
"Need to hit a few more fairways tomorrow to try to attack some pins and get it closer, and not leave myself four and five-footers for par all day."
Bryson DeChambeau accidentally snapped his driver on the seventh hole but, because he did not break it in anger, he was able to send for a replacement and went on to card a 68.
“I didn't really hear it because, me, I'm in the moment trying to hit the shot," said the American afterwards. "Definitely the ball did not react proper. I hit it out to the right, felt like I drew it and the ball went to the right and spun up like crazy. I'm like, that's not normal.
“So it was surprising, and then I just went over to pick up my tee, leaned on it a little, and the thing just, see ya later.”
Playing with Reed and Kevin Na, MacIntyre started well on his debut in the event by holing a 28-foot birdie putt for a 2 at the third.
He then dropped shots at the eighth, ninth, 15th and 18th to sit joint-109th, leaving him with work to do in the second round to make the cut.
(USA unless stated, par 70)
65 Jason Day (Aus), Brendon Todd
66 Bud Cauley, Mike Lorenzo-Vera (Fra), Zach Johnson, Xander Schauffele, Martin Kaymer (Ger), Brendan Steele, Brooks Koepka, Scottie Scheffler, Justin Rose (Eng)
67 JT Poston, Alex Noren (Swe), Gary Woodland, Tom Lewis (Eng), Tony Finau, Daniel Berger, Haotong Li (Chn), Kevin Kisner
68 Kurt Kitayama, Tiger Woods, Adam Scott (Aus), Viktor Hovland (Nor), Adam Hadwin (Can), Brian Harman, Lanto Griffin, Shane Lowry (Irl), Paul Casey (Eng), Bryson DeChambeau, Keith Mitchell, Bernd Wiesberger (Aut), Patrick Reed
69 Matthew Wolff, Jason Kokrak, Shaun Norris (Rsa), Nate Lashley, Kevin Streelman, Si Woo Kim (Kor), Harris English, Matthias Schwab (Aut), Danny Lee (Nzl), Joel Dahmen, Dustin Johnson, Abraham Ancer (Mex), Collin Morikawa, Billy Horschel, Corey Conners (Can)
70 Rory McIlroy (NIrl), Jon Rahm (Spa), Tommy Fleetwood (Eng), Henrik Stenson (Swe), Victor Perez (Fra)
72 Graeme McDowell (NIrl), Phil Mickelson, Tyrrell Hatton (Eng)
73 Robert Macintyre (Sco), Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, Sergio Garcia (Spa), Ian Poulter (Eng)
74 Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng)
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