Green speed

Pa­tient Kis­ner, Ole­sen fire 67s to share lead

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS -

CHAR­LOTTE, N.C. — Jor­dan Spi­eth felt like he was “free rolling” com­ing into the PGA Cham­pi­onship, the only ma­jor keep­ing him from the ca­reer Grand Slam.

He just didn’t an­tic­i­pate greens rolling like this.

On some of the fastest and at times frus­trat­ing greens the PGA Cham­pi­onship has ever seen, Kevin Kis­ner and Thor­b­jorn Ole­sen emerged with a share of the lead Thurs­day at 4-un­der 67, the high­est score to lead this ma­jor af­ter the open­ing round in seven years.

Spi­eth didn’t make a putt longer than 5 feet — that one was for par — and was com­ing off two three-putt bo­geys from long range when he stead­ied him­self with two per­fectly ex­e­cuted birdies for a 72 that left him five shots be­hind and very much in the game.

“Given it’s the first round, I know I’m still in it, but I know that to­mor­row’s round be­comes that much more im­por­tant,” Spi­eth said. “If I’m five back at the start of the day, I’ve got to be less than five back af­ter Friday to re­ally feel like I can play the way this golf course needs to be played and still be able to win.”

For all the talk about this 7,600-yard course fa­vor­ing 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.

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 5-iron 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 his 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.”

Rory McIl­roy, the bet­ting fa­vorite 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. One swing changed every­thing. He hooked his tee shot into the wa­ter on the reach­able par-4 14th, had to drop in nasty rough and missed a short putt to make dou­ble bo­gey. He failed to birdie the par-5 15th and closed with three pars for a 72.

Hideki Mat­suyama, Dustin John­son and Jason Day were among those at 1-un­der 70.

David Ling­merth (Arkansas Ra­zor­backs) had a 1-over 72. John Daly (Dardanelle, Ra­zor­backs) shot a 3-over 74.

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. But when I had the chances that I had and I just couldn’t get the ball to go in on the greens, that is when I get the most frus­trated I can get out there.”


Jor­dan Spi­eth waves Thurs­day on the 15th green dur­ing the first round of the PGA Cham­pi­onship at the Quail Hol­low Club in Char­lotte, N.C.


Thor­b­jorn Ole­sen re­acts to his tee shot Thurs­day on the 16th hole dur­ing the first round of the PGA Cham­pi­onship.


Eng­land’s Paul Casey hits from the fair­way on the 18th hole dur­ing Thurs­day’s first round of the PGA Cham­pi­onship in Char­lotte, N.C. Casey shot a 2-un­der 69 and is tied with six other golfers who are two shots be­hind lead­ers Thor­b­jorn Ole­sen and Kevin Kis­ner.

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