The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - DOUG FERGUSON

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.

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