Australia’s Jason Day shot a bogey-free five-under-par 65 to take a share of the lead on Thursday in the opening round of the PGA Championship, the first major of the pandemic-interrupted season.
The 2015 PGA champion Day rolled in five birdies for a one-shot cushion with co-leader Brendon Todd atop a star-studded crowded leaderboard at the TPC Harding Park course in San Francisco.
Day and Todd are just in front of a group of nine players that includes four former major champions, including two-time defending PGA champ Brooks Koepka and Germany’s Martin Kaymer. The other two former major winners are Zach Johnson and England’s Justin Rose.
Xander Schauffele, Bud Cauley, Scottie Scheffler, France’s Mike Lorenzo-Vera, and Brendan Steele are also at four-under 66.
The first PGA Championship on the US west coast since 1988 is being contested without spectators after the season was shutdown for three months due to the Covid-19 outbreak. But the relatively muted atmosphere proved no hindrance to Day, who is coming off a string of top ten finishes.
“I feel like the momentum that I’ve had over the last three starts has kind of seeped into this week,” said Day. “The funny thing is that every day I’m excited to go back to the golf course and play, whereas before I was struggling to get up and going.
“The game is slowly coming around, the confidence is coming around because I’m starting to see the results.”
Todd, who already has two PGA Tour wins this season, had eight birdies as he was part of the afternoon wave which had to battle more difficult weather conditions.
“I did a great job just scraping it around and giving myself a chance to shoot a good nine coming in,” Todd said of his five under 65.
Meanwhile Koepka, who is chasing history by trying to become the first three-peat PGA major winner in almost a century, once again demonstrated his ability to raise his game on the biggest stages.
The American got on a roll at last week’s WGC-FedEx St. Jude event in Memphis and carried it over to this tournament.
“To do it here, it would be special,” he said of the three-peat. “I think there’s, what, six guys that have ever won three in a row. Not a bad list to be on.”
Rewind works wonders
Koepka sank four birdies in the final six holes of his front nine after starting his round from the 10th tee where he made bogey.
On his fourth hole of the day at No. 13, Koepka hit a 175-yard approach shot to six feet and then hit another 165-yard approach to just three feet on the next hole. He drained a nine-foot putt on 16 for another birdie.
“I put the ball in the fairway, hit some greens and made putts. You just try to break it down. It is pretty simple and I did a good job of that today,” he said.
Two-time major winner Kaymer, who started on No. 10, got hot on his back nine, making two birdies on No. 1 and No. 3 and delivering an eagle on the par-five No. 4.
Kaymer, who won this event in 2010, hasn’t been playing golf during the pandemic so he re-watched his 2014 US Open victory for inspiration.
“That helped me to believe that my putting was good enough and that my ball-striking was good enough,” he said. “Even though it’s a few years back, it’s always nice to remember those moments.”
Reigning Masters champ Tiger Woods showed why it is never wise to count him out of a major, shooting a solid 68 to join another large group at two under, three shots back of the leaders.
Woods teed off in the morning wave with Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas as the marquee trio all began their round with birdies on No. 10.
Thomas is competing as the No. 1 player in the world and former number one McIlroy is trying to win a major for the first time since 2014, while Woods is looking for his fifth PGA Championship title.
Woods went to two under through four holes on No. 13 by draining a monster 32-foot birdie putt.
“I felt like it was a very solid round,” said Woods. “I made a few adjustments and that is what you have to do.”
Bryson DeChambeau also shot a 68 but he had to overcome an equipment malfunction in the middle of his round when he snapped the head off his driver while leaning on it to pick up his tee.
DeChambeau, who is averaging nearly 325 yards a drive after gaining 50 pounds of muscle over the past 10 months, was allowed by officials to fix the club after it was determined that it came off accidentally.
“It was surprising. I just went over to pick up my tee, and leaned on it a little, and the thing just, see ya later,” DeChambeau said.