Early on, feel­ing is Hol­low

Course presents a chal­lenge, with Ole­son and Kis­ner lead­ing way at 67.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Art Span­der

CHAR­LOTTE, N.C. — In the first round of the year’s last golf ma­jor, Jor­dan Spi­eth couldn’t make a putt un­til he ab­so­lutely had to. U.S. Open cham­pion Brooks Koepka was trou­bled by the greens but still man­aged to break par. Jim Her­man, who was a pro for one of Don­ald Trump’s cour­ses, briefly was the leader. But it was Thor­b­jorn Ole­sen, a very good Dane if not a great one, and Kevin Kis­ner who shared the lead.

By the time this 99th PGA Cham­pi­onship comes to a close — that would be Sun­day, bar­ring a thun­der­storm or two — one of the pros will be re­ceiv­ing the Wana­maker Tro­phy, but the win­ner most likely will be the course, Quail Hol­low Club.

While it may not be Au­gusta Na­tional, Quail Hol­low was re­con­structed be­fore the tour­na­ment, some of the holes length­ened, and the greens re­planted with a new ver­sion of Ber­muda that given the num­ber of three-putts seemed more glass than grass.

“With some of the pin lo­ca­tions, these greens are the fastest I’ve ever played,” Koepka said. “You never felt the ball was ever go­ing to stop.”

Un­less it was in the bot­tom of the cup, where

Koepka had it of­ten enough Thurs­day, with five birdies, to shoot a three-un­der-par 68.

It put him one shot be­hind Ole­sen and Kis­ner, who birdied 18 to tie. Also a shot back were Grayson Mur­ray — who grew up in Raleigh, a three-hour drive from Char­lotte — Gary Wood­land, Chris Stroud, and D.A. Points.

Her­man, Tony Finau, Pa­trick Reed, Bud Cauley, Rickie Fowler, Brian Har­man and Paul Casey were at twounder 69.

When Her­man won the Shell Hous­ton Open in 2016, his first vic­tory in 106 starts, his former boss, Trump, then a Repub­li­can can­di­date, de­clared he would con­sider him for a cabi­net post.

Rory McIl­roy isn’t think­ing of get­ting into pol­i­tics, just the win­ner’s cir­cle, from which he has been ab­sent in 2017. McIl­roy shot 72, as did Spi­eth, five be­hind Ole­sen and Kis­ner.

Phil Mick­el­son and Ernie Els, both play­ing in their 100th ma­jor, had mis­er­able days, Mick­el­son a 79, Els an 80.

Spi­eth wasn’t in the top 30 and yet felt grate­ful com­pared to what might have been. He had con­sec­u­tive three-putts at the fifth and sixth holes, which were his 14th and 15th. Then three over, Spi­eth birdied seven and eight.

He was play­ing with Koepka and Masters cham­pion Ser­gio Gar­cia, who shot 75.

“If I had fin­ished par-parpar, I might have thrown my­self out of the tour­na­ment,” Spi­eth said.

“Eas­ier holes,” he said of seven and eight. “Two or three of the four eas­i­est holes on the golf course, as long as you hit your tee shot in the right place. Good tee shots, which is im­por­tant, but from there I hit two dif­fi­cult but ex­tremely solid shots that led to short birdies.”

Spi­eth, look­ing to com­plete the ca­reer Grand Slam at age 24, took 32 putts and didn’t sink any­thing longer than six feet.

“It was just the put­ter,” Spi­eth said. “Every­thing else was fine.”

Olympic swim cham­pion Michael Phelps, a com­pe­tent golfer if not faster than a great white shark, was in Spi­eth’s large gallery. “It was great, he’s fol­lowed us be­fore,” Spi­eth said.

Ole­sen, 27, born in Fureso, Denmark, is a mem­ber of the Euro­pean Tour but has played in the United States now and then, in­clud­ing last weekend at Fire­stone, where he tied for 10th. This is his fifth PGA Cham­pi­onship.

“I’ve had a cou­ple of top 10s in ma­jors,” Ole­sen said. “I’ve learned a lot.”

What oth­ers have learned is that Thor­b­jorn is Ole­sen’s mid­dle name.

“In school, when I started, there were three Ja­cobs, my first name, so ev­ery­body called me Thor­b­jorn, and then it just hanged on from there. I thought, why not? I’ll still use it as a pro­fes­sional golfer.”

Mike Ehrmann Getty Images

JOR­DAN SPI­ETH CAN’T be­lieve his birdie putt didn’t go down on the 14th hole at Quail Hol­low. Spi­eth needed two late birdies to fin­ish with a one-over 72.

Tan­nen Maury Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

DENMARK’S Thor­b­jorn Ole­son made a few friends af­ter mak­ing six birdies in his open­ing round of 67.

Sam Green­wood Getty Images

CO-LEADER Kevin Kis­ner has won two PGA Tour events, in­clud­ing this year at Colo­nial.

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