Ole­sen, Kis­ner hit it long, share lead

Quail Hol­low ‘a bomber’s par­adise,’ Koepka says

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Steve DiMeglio

A blue­print to beat­ing Quail Hol­low seemed to emerge dur­ing Thurs­day’s first round of the 99th PGA Cham­pi­onship.

Hit it long.

The first page of the leader­board af­ter Day 1 of the last ma­jor of the year was packed with some of the long­est play­ers in pro golf hit­ting plenty of 300yard-plus drives, and at the top was a guy named Thor­b­jorn Ole­sen. It was fit­ting that the Dane was there — his first name means “thun­der bear.” His name also is mind­ful of the ham­mer-wield­ing god of Norse mythol­ogy.

Ole­sen made three birdies and a bo­gey on each nine of the 7,600yard course and signed for a 4-un­der-par 67 to grab a share of the lead with Kevin Kis­ner, a win­ner this year of the Dean & DeLuca In­vi­ta­tional at Colo­nial.

“I was driv­ing the ball very, very well, and that made it a bit eas­ier. Com­ing in with some short irons into th­ese greens was def­i­nitely the key to the round,” said Ole­sen,

27, who av­er­aged 316.5 yards on the two holes that were mea­sured — the par-5 sev­enth and par-5

15th. “I feel more con­fi­dent with my­self and my game than I prob­a­bly did a few years ago. A lot of things can hap­pen. I just have to

stay re­laxed the next few days, still try­ing to keep the ball in the fair­way, and then I know I can hit it close and make some birdies.”

Ole­sen and Kis­ner are one shot clear of five play­ers, in­clud­ing bighit­ters Gary Wood­land, Brooks Koepka and Grayson Mur­ray. In a group two back was Tony Finau, who turns heads on the driv­ing range with his length.

At 1 un­der and three back were a trio of bombers — Hideki Mat­suyama, who won last week’s WGC-Bridge­stone In­vi­ta­tional, world No. 1 Dustin John­son and 2015 PGA cham­pion Ja­son Day — and a bull of a man, Jon Rahm, who av­er­aged 320 yards on the mea­sured drives.

Koepka over­pow­ered Erin Hills in Wis­con­sin to win the U.S. Open in June. He un­leashed some more power on Quail Hol­low. He and the other bangers have the abil­ity to take more ag­gres­sive lines off the tee — over trees, for in­stance — that shorten holes im­mensely.

On the 527-yard, par-4 first, Koepka blasted his tee shot over the trees on the right side of the fair­way and was left with just a pitch­ing wedge into the green.

“A lot of things can hap­pen. I just have to stay re­laxed the next few days, still try­ing to keep the ball in the fair­way, and then I know I can hit it close and make some birdies.” First-round co-leader Thor­b­jorn Ole­sen

With the dif­fi­cult greens pro­vid­ing a supreme chal­lenge, hit­ting ap­proach shots with as short a club as you can is piv­otal. The course, al­ready a long one, could play longer if ex­pected storms ar­rive the next three days, height­en­ing the need to carry the ball.

“This golf course, it’s a bomber’s par­adise,” said Koepka, who av­er­aged 314 yards on the mea­sured holes. “Length is a key fac­tor out here, and es­pe­cially when it’s as wet as it is, it makes those fair­ways a bit wider. And if you can keep it in the fair­way, you’ll be just fine.”

Kis­ner fol­lowed his own blue­print to the lead — hit fair­ways and make birdies on the holes that present the least chal­lenge and play for par on the tough­est holes. To Kis­ner, the ones he has to get are the par-5 sev­enth, the short par-4 eighth, the driv­able par-4

14th and the par-5 15th. Kis­ner made birdies on all four and added two more to off­set two bo­geys.

“I’m go­ing to say ev­ery course we play is a bomber’s course any­more. But if they are not play­ing from the fair­way, I wouldn’t want to be do­ing it,” Kis­ner said. “The rough’s bru­tal. I don’t care how far they hit it. If they are hav­ing 7- or

8-iron, it’s still go­ing to be dif­fi­cult to get on the green. The greens are so firm, you can’t con­trol your spin. If I can just keep hit­ting fair­ways, I’m go­ing to like my chances.”

While the long­est club in the bag can be a huge weapon, the short­est club in the bag will be just as sig­nif­i­cant. The new Ber­muda greens — they’re just 15 months old — caused prob­lems for all the play­ers. Reign­ing Bri­tish Open cham­pion Jor­dan Spi­eth, who is try­ing to be­come the youngest player to win the ca­reer Grand Slam, needed 32 putts to shoot 72.

The grain of the greens was caus­ing havoc; the speed of the greens was caus­ing headaches. Many play­ers said the greens could use a touch of wa­ter to slow them down a touch. The fore­cast calls for just that.

“The greens? They are re­ally fast. I thought they had a lot of dif­fi­cult pins out there. That’s what is very tough about this golf course,” John­son said af­ter his 70.

“With some of the pin lo­ca­tions, th­ese greens are the fastest greens I’ve ever played,” Koepka said. “And the thing is, they are only go­ing to get faster and firmer. I can’t imag­ine how much faster they are go­ing to get.”

ROB SCHU­MACHER, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Brooks Koepka, who is one shot back, hits out of a bunker on the fourth hole Thurs­day.

ROB SCHU­MACHER, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Kevin Kis­ner ac­knowl­edges the crowd af­ter sink­ing a birdie putt on the 18th green Thurs­day.

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