PAIR OF 67S TAKE TOP SPOT,
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jordan Spieth began his quest for the career Grand Slam by not making a putt longer than five feet. What helped was that Quail Hollow punished just about everyone at some point in the start of the PGA Championship.
Kevin Kisner and Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark emerged Thursday as the top survivors on a course with some of the fastest, scariest putting surfaces the PGA Championship has ever seen. And both had to watch lengthy birdie putts creep into the cup on the 18th hole to share the lead at 4-under 67.
Graham DeLaet from Weyburn, Sask., shot a 70. Mackenzie Hughes from Dundas shot a 78 and Adam Hadwin from Abbotsford, B.C., shot a 79.
For all the talk about this 7,600yard course favouring the big hitters, the shortest club in the bag turned out to be just as valuable.
“Any time you have a putt down grain, downhill ... we just tap it and hope it stops by the hole,” Jon Rahm said after a 70.
Spieth is among the best putters in golf, especially from long range. On consecutive holes, he ran long putts some 10 feet by the cup and made bogey. He saved his round with two late birdies for a 1-over 72 and still was just five shots behind.
The 24-year-old Texan would become the sixth, and youngest, player to complete the Grand Slam if he were to win the PGA Championship.
U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka led five players at 68. Koepka missed a half-dozen putts from 12 feet or closer, and while it looked as though he hit the ball well enough to go low at Quail Hollow, he wasn’t the least bit frustrated.
“It’s going to test your patience one way or another,” Koepka said. “That’s just a major. You’ve got to stay patient. You can’t make doubles out here. That’s the big thing. Make sure the worst score you make is a bogey and give yourself a couple of good chances on the easier holes.”
That’s the way Kisner approached it.
It helps that he grew up in the South and loves Bermuda greens. Given the size of Quail Hollow, Kisner drew up a simple plan. He identified four or five holes where he could make birdie, and he played for par everywhere else.
“I birdied them all today,” Kisner said. “Make a lot of pars, and get to a par 5 or one of those short par 4s, I can do my wedge game and get it to 10 or 12 feet. That’s my plan. Other than that, I’m playing for par.”
The 18th was not one of the birdie holes he had in mind, especially with his ball nestled in the Bermuda rough 205 yards from the pin. Kisner thought the grass was thin enough behind the ball to get a 5iron on it, and from there it was a matter of judging how much it would bounce. It ran up to the green about 20 feet away, and he used that rhythmic putting stroke to trickle it into the cup.
Olesen picked up birdies on most of the same holes, and he finished with a 30-foot birdie that also sounded like an accident.
“It was a little bit of a safe shot into the green,” he said. “That’s what can happen on this golf course. When you play safe into the greens, you give yourself very tricky putts, like the one I had — downhill, left-to-right. It was very, very fast. But it was just a very good roll. So it was nice to see that one drop.”
Rickie Fowler made plenty of birdies, and he needed them to offset his triple bogey on the sixth hole. Rory McIlroy, the betting favourite coming into the week because of his two victories at Quail Hollow, was motoring along just fine when he birdied the 10th hole to reach 2 under, just two shots behind. Hideki Matsuyama, Dustin Johnson and Jason Day were among those at 1-under 70.
Spieth failed to take advantage, and while he could appreciate they were tough to putt, he had a good day off the tee. That was his main concern. As for the pressure of trying to get the final leg of the Grand Slam?
“I don’t think I was as free rolling as I thought I would be, as you can tell by some frustration,” he said. “If I would have shot 1 over and didn’t strike it well and everything was average, it would have been fine.”
Kevin Kisner hits his tee shot on the 18th hole during the first round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at the Quail Hollow Club on Thursday in Charlotte, N.C. Kisner opened with a 67, good enough for a share of the lead.