Casey’s second into 13 gets held up on the breeze and, like Frank Costanza, stops short. He’ll have a little work to do to get up and down to save his par. Meanwhile on 8, JT Poston chips in, and that’s back-to-back birdies. The reigning Wyndham champion is -3 through 17 holes.
Back to the 14th hole, as imagined by CS Lewis. Bryson batters his second from the base of the tree into the rough to the left of the green. The distance between green and Narnia: 176 yards. But it doesn’t look as though he’s going to make good a fantasy escape, because he then sends a clumpish chip bounding past the hole, nearly going off the green on the other side. His 25-foot par effort is never dropping, and he’s back to -3. Better news for Jon Rahm, who scrambles par in the wake of that microphone-bothering drive. He remains at +1.
Paul Casey continues to smoothly make his way around Harding Park. After a decent two-putt par from distance at 11, he knocks his second at 12 from 200 yards to five feet. In goes the birdie putt, and suddenly he’s right up there at -4! Meanwhile Adam Hadwin drops a shot at 15 to slip to -2 … then picks it straight back up at 16. The Canadian is going along very nicely indeed.
“That’s in Narnia!” Bryson DeChambeau drifts off into a fantasy world as he flays a wild drive deep into the jungle down the right of 14. His ball ends up by the roots of a very large tree … but he’s got a route into the green, and the ability to take a full swing. He’s going for the green, all the way from Neverland. Shades of Sergio on 16 at Medinah in 1999.
There goes the Rahm rag! He sends his drive at 13 into the trees down the right, and responds by tokking a nearby microphone with a hilariously petulant flick of his driver. The frustration of not being able to get going at all, writ large. His partner Mickelson finds the first cut to the left of the hole. His steady start – one under through 8 – seems a wee while back now. Bogey at 8, followed by a sequence of pars. He’s level and could do with getting going again.
DeChambeau sends a monster fade around the trees at 13, then sends his second from 170 yards to kick-in distance. That’s one of the shots of the day. He tidies up and moves back to -4. Glorious, and a fine response to that dropped shot at 12. Meanwhile his partner Adam Scott moves into contention, raking in a 30-footer across 13. That’s his third birdie in five holes, to follow back-to-back birds at 9 and 10; he’s -2. But the third member of the group, Rickie Fowler, looks a beaten docket right now, uncharacteristically glum as his round unravels. He gesticulates to the heavens in impotent horror as he matches Fleetwood’s bogey / double bogey whammy, and slips to +3.
Li judders with irritation as a fine snaking uphill birdie effort on 7 slips millimetres past the right edge of the cup. He remains at -3. Meanwhile double-bogey disaster for Fleetwood at 13, as his approach kicks left into a bunker, from which he thins his wedge over the green. In a flash, he’s back to level par.
DeChambeau’s second into 12 leaks off to the right, and he’s fortunate it doesn’t settle in the thick stuff. Instead, it hops over the rough and stops generously on the fringe. But he overhits the chip, 12 feet past the hole. Having just shipped a shot at 11, this could be the moment his round begins to unravel …but he stabs the par saver back up the green and into the centre of the cup. That showed real moxie. He remains at -3. Fowler meanwhile takes three to get down from the side of the green, and he slips to +1.
Birdies at 4 and 6 for Li Haotong. He joins the best-of-afternoon group at -3, alongside Adam Hadwin, Paul Casey, Brendon Todd and Entertainment’s Bryson DeChambeau. Otherwise, it’s fairly quiet at the minute, art imitating life at the fan-free Harding Park.
Trouble for Fleetwood at 12, as he sends a huge slice into the trees on the right, and can only hack his way up the hole. His third, a chip from 50 yards, gives him half a chance of salvaging par, but he pushes the six-foot putt he leaves himself, and the resulting bogey drops him back to -2.
DeChambeau drops his first stroke of the round. His tee shot at the par-three 11th nestles onto the fringe at the back. A long birdie putt is left six feet short, and he can’t make the saver. He slips back to -3. But birdie for Rahm on 10, negating the bogey he had just made at 9. He’s been erratic all afternoon, with momentum at a premium. He’s +1.
News of Paul Casey, still chasing that elusive first major at the age of 43. He’s playing the front nine in Brysonesque fashion, birdies at 4, 7 and now 8 bringing him up to -3. As well as being alongside fellow afternoon starters Adam Hadwin and the aforementioned Tommy Fleetwood, he’s also sharing leaderboard real estate with Cameron Smith, the 26-year-old Australian having birdied 18 and now 1, and Brendon Todd, who has played the back nine in 33.
Tommy Ono Fleetwood nearly slam-dunks his tee shot at the short 11th. But it lands an inch to the side of the hole and bounds 20 feet past. One and one and one is three? Nope! He rolls a left-to-right curler into the cup for birdie and moves to -3! Meanwhile back on 10, DeChambeau is greenside in two. He delicately chips to three feet, and tidies up for a birdie that takes him within touching distance of the lead.
-5: Day (F)
-4: Scheffler (F), Kaymer (F), Schauffele (F), Cauley (F), Z Johnson (F), Koepka (F), Rose (F), Steele(F), Lorenzo-Vera (F), DeChambeau (10)
Tommy Fleetwood is dressed today like John Lennon on the cover of Abbey Road, top to toe in white, with those famous locks spilling down his back. And here come a fat shot, it come grooving up slowly, landing in a bunker guarding the front of 10. He can’t get up and down for birdie on the easiest hole on the course, and doesn’t look particularly happy as he takes his leave. Does that frown count as joo-joo eyeball? Still, having birdied 4 and 7 he remains in good nick at -2.
Since winning the 2017 Masters, Sergio Garcia has started 11 major tournaments … and missed seven cuts. It’s already looking like those numbers will soon flip over to 12 and eight. He sends his tee shot at the long par-three 8th into thick rubbish to the right of the green. He’s shortsided, plus there’s a bunker in the road. He weakly flops his second into the sand, and doesn’t go particularly close with his splash out. He makes the eight-foot bogey putt, but he’s now +4 and wears the look of a man who doesn’t particularly care. Oh Sergio! Has it come to this?! (Bogey for Mickelson, too, incidentally, who also shortsided himself. He’s level par again.)
DeChambeau makes his birdie putt, and he hits the turn in 32. He’s -3, and it’s been an exhibition of calm brilliance so far. His Tin Cup meltdown at Muirfield Village seems such a long time ago right now. Playing like this, only red ants can stop him.
DeChambeau, with his spanking new driver shaft, belts a monster down the long par-four 9th. Then he arrows his second straight at the flag, leaving himself an uphill 15-footer for birdie. Love him or say you hate him even though you secretly like him, he always provides wonderful entertainment. “So there is a price to pay for bulking up like Popeye on spinach then,” observes Adam Hirst, “and that price is paid by the clubs. All he did was lean on it and it fell apart, the poor thing.”
Rahm makes a head-cooling birdie at the short par-four 7th, after clipping his second to three feet from 50 yards. He’s back up to +1. Meanwhile bogey for Poston at 2, which drops him out of the group at -3. Here, on that subject, shall we remind ourselves of how things look at the toppermost of the poppermost? Why not.
-5: Day (F)
-4: Scheffler (F), Kaymer (F), Schauffele (F), Cauley (F), Z Johnson (F), Koepka (F), Rose (F), Steele (F), Lorenzo-Vera (F)
-3: Finau (F), Kisner (F), Berger (F), Woodland (F), Noren (F), Lewis (F), Norris (11), Hadwin (11)
DeChambeau chips up elegantly to kick-in distance at 8. He appears in total control of his game and his emotions today. He could so easily have allowed that driver incident to mess with his equilibrium, but he’s sailed on through and remains at -2. His partner Rickie Fowler, who had hit a 5-wood through the green, then a hot chip 20 feet back past the hole, makes the par saver to remain at level. (He had earlier dropped a stroke at 5.)
The 8th is playing at 237 yards today. Most player have been hitting hybrids into it … and only one in five of the morning starters found the green. DeChambeau is hitting a 5-iron. Mind you, he’s not on in regulation either, his skelp finishing short and left, much to his surprise. But it’s on the shorter grass, so up and down for par shouldn’t be an issue. He seems happy enough as he walks up the hole, fixing up his Cobra and laughing with his caddy: “It was bound to break, I’ve been using it for a long time!”
JT Poston continues to shoot hot. After his run of three birdies in a row between 15 and 17, he missed a fourth by the width of a dimple at 18. No matter, because having turned in 33, he’s just made another at 1. The 27-year-old North Carolinian is -3. Meanwhile good news for DeChambeau, who scrambles his par after that wild club-bothering drive on 7, then receives his brand new shaft. His cronies have time to attach it to the driver head, too, because he’s about to play the par-three 8th.
Back on 6, Mickelson has the decent lie his unlucky drive deserves, and he’s able to find the green before escaping with par. He stays at -1. Not so fortunate is Rahm, who can only hack out into thick greenside stuff, from which he can’t get up and down. He’s +2, and bubbling, you can tell from the fire in his eyes, though he’s trying his damnedest to keep a lid on it. Sergio, the third member of this group, is also having a shocker. Bogeys at 3, 5 and now 6, and he’ll not be righting the wrongs of 1999 and 2008 this time.
DeChambeau batters another vicious drive down 7. It’s way off line. The camera cuts away … then back to a sheepish looking player holding the head of his driver in one hand, a snapped shaft in the other! Has he snapped it in a glorious fit of pique?! It’s not clear, not even from the first replay of the sequence after the shot. But how could we doubt the young man? He was bending down to pick up his tee, supporting himself with his club, and the shaft gave way from under him. A quick check with the rules official, and one of his team is permitted to run off and get a new shaft, which he’ll be able to attach to the driver head easily enough. Bad / good new technology!
Bryson DeChambeau blooters a 330-yard drive down 6, chips pin high to 12 feet, and rattles in the putt. He’s -2. Meanwhile the exciting young Norwegian, Viktor Hovland, low amateur at last year’s Masters and US Open, is going along nicely on his major debut as a pro. Bogey at 2, followed by birdies at 3, 4 and now 7.
BREAKING NEWS: Phil Mickelson finds a fairwa… ah. Well, he had done, at last, but the ball took an absurd links-style bounce to the right and disappeared into thick filth. That’s exceptionally unlucky. Jon Rahm follows him in, though his ball was always heading that way. He’s fuming at his slow start: +1 through 5, and up against it to save par already here.
Mickelson leaves his first putt down the green a good four feet short. The par effort is no gimme, especially as Phil’s been known to miss his fair share of short ones. But he nervelessly guides the slight right-to-left slider in, and remains at -1. A quick reminder that Lefty shot 66-67 last weekend, and tied for second at the WGC St Jude. You’re thinking it too, right?
Mickelson has the magical short game of the great Seve. Sadly, he also drives like the much-missed Spaniard. Having flayed his tee shot at 4 behind some trees, he decided to play up a parallel hole, before wedging on and taking a couple of putts for his par. Now down 5 he’s hit another tree, meaning he’s only gone about 200 yards. He lashes his second, from 240, just over the back of the green, not a bad outcome all told. He’s more likely than not to make a two-putt par from there. However, it’s not 100 percent clear how he’s still -1, given the way he’s spraying it about from the tee box. Then again, this is why we love him, why we loved Seve. All part of the charm.
The 37-year-old South African journeyman Shaun Norris is ripping up the front nine. Birdies at 3, 6 and now 8 make him the hottest player of the afternoon wave. He’s -3. Meanwhile JT Poston, who won the
Wyndham Championship last year with a final-day 62, has just turned around an average start with three birdies in a row – 15, 16, 17 – to move to -2.
Another birdie for Fowler, this time at 4. Only a turn from draining an eagle putt, too. But a wild drive at 5 is punished by an awful lie, and he can only advance the ball a few yards. His third lands hard on the green, and stays there, but he’s facing a long par putt to remain at -2.
Scotland haven’t had a golfer from the very top drawer for a while now. Since Monty? Since Sandy? Anyway, Oban’s Robert MacIntyre could be the real deal. His one major played to date, last year’s Open, produced a tie for sixth. And the 24-year-old has started his second major solidly, with birdie at 3. Pars on every other hole through 6. He’s -1. And while we’re on a Celtic tip, belated news of Shane Lowry, who played the back nine in level par, but birdied 1 and 7 on his way home to sign for a very respectable 68. He’s -2, and the chance to become the first player to win the Open and PGA consecutively since Rory McIlroy in 2014 is very much still on.
Speaking of brisk starts, they don’t come much faster than Adam Hadwin’s. A drive crashed 310 yards down 1, then a wedge slamdunked into the cup from 74 yards. Eagle! The 32-year-old Canadian remains at -2 through 6. And how about this from Rob Labritz, one of the 20 club professionals who have qualified for this year’s carnival of US golf? An opening bogey, but birdies at 2, 3 and 5 have the 49-year-old from GlenArbor in Bedford Hills, New York near the top of the early leaderboard at -2. Labritz won’t get giddy: he’s already been the low club professional at the PGA twice, in 2010 and last year.
Mickelson rolls in a 15-foot birdie putt on 2, and that woeful opening tee shot suddenly seems an awfully long time ago. He’s -1 and this now qualifies as a brisk start. Another par for his partner Sergio, but Rahm bogeys, having shortsided himself then fluffed a chip. Meanwhile it’s an up-and-down start for Rickie Fowler, who must win a major at some point, it’ll be heartbreaking if he doesn’t. Bogey at 1 followed by birdie at 3, and the fairytale is only 70 holes away. But there’s no third birdie for Varner … yet. Two careful putts and he remains at -2. He’d have taken that when standing behind that tree.
Harold Varner III went into the final round last year at Bethpage Black tied for second. He went round in the final pairing with eventual winner Brooks Koepka, but crumbled to a dismal 81, tying for 36th. But the 29-year-old from Ohio has a top-ten finish at the Players on his CV, plus a European Tour win at the Australian version of this event, so another tilt at the title is far from a pipe dream. He’s opened with birdies at 10 and 13, and has just played one of the shots of the day from behind a tree down the right of 15, whipping a big slice around the trunk and into the centre of the green. He’s got a straight 15-footer for a third birdie of the day. Par will be a most acceptable result too, mind. Right now, he’s -2.
DeChambeau is one roll away from draining a 40-foot birdie putt on 2. He’s started out in determined fashion, no doubt buoyed by the weather, which had threatened to turn an hour or so ago, the mist rolling in from the bay. But the sun stays out. Meanwhile a fast start by Li Haotong, who has been steady if not spectacular in the majors since that final-day 63 at Birkdale in 2017. The 25-year-old became the first Chinese player to lead any WGC event when he shot an opening-round 64 at the HSBC Champions back in November. (He ended the week tied for 24th.) Another fast start here, maybe? Birdies at 10 and 13, and he’s -2 through seven holes.
Opening pars for Jon Rahm and PGA 1999 and 2008 bridesmaid Sergio Garcia. Phil Mickelson, wearing his fancy new aviators, makes par as well, and blows out his cheeks in relief having sliced his tee shot – a 3-wood taken for safety – into deep rubbish down the left. An escape for Lefty, who at 50 would blast the oldest major winner record held by Julius Boros (48, at the 1968 PGA) right out of the water should he prevail this week.
Thanks to Bryan for holding the fort. Now then. I’m back and fully energised again, thanks to one part Hamburger Helper (the only food-flavored food product marketed by a talking golf glove) and nine parts Bryson DeChambeau. You should have seen the way he’s just played the opening hole. All the shoulders into the drive, which flew hysterically over the trees on the left. Then a wedge whipped over the woods to 12 feet, followed by a putt clipped into the hole with minimum fuss. An opening birdie, and this evening’s round already promises to be quite the event.
Tiger Woods has opened with a two-under 68 and is the tournament’s current driving distance leader at 313.5yds – perhaps not for long as Bryson DeChambeau tees off alongside Rickie Fowler and Adam Scott – but it was his 115 feet worth of putts made with his new tool on the green that he was most enthused about immediately afterward. “I’ve been messing around with it for the better part of over a year,” the 15-time major champion says. “It’s a little bit longer than my original one, which makes it a little but easier on my back [so] I was able to spend more time practicing.”
Brooks Koepka is one shot off the clubhouse lead after making birdie on the 18th to open with a four-under 66, an ominously in-form start in his bid to become only the second player to win the PGA Championship three straight times. He’s now 56 under par in 21 rounds at majors since August 2018 with an average score of 68.1. “It’s a major, I’ll get up for it,” the world No 6 says. “It’s a little bit of confidence I guess. At the end of the day, I’m feeling good and I’m playing good. There’s no reason to be scientific.”
-5: Day (F)
-4: Scheffler (F), Kaymer (F), Schauffele (F), Cauley (F), Z Johnson (F), Koepka (F), Rose (F), Steele (F)
Tiger Woods knocks in a 12-footer for birdie on the par-four 7th, moving three under for the day and two shots off the lead. The eleventh-hour putter switch from his trusty Scotty Cameron Newport 2 GSS to a new Cameron prototype appears to be yielding dividends. Meanwhile, Justin Thomas’s patchy back nine continues as he compounds his double bogey on the 3rd with another on the 7th after losing his tee shot in a cypress tree.
Bogey for Bud Cauley at 18. But he’s still back in 33, having gone out in 33, and he joins the ever-growing clubhouse gang at -4.
-5: Day (F)
-4: Scheffler (F), Kaymer (F), Schauffele (F), Cauley (F), Z Johnson (17*), Koepka (17*)
And with that, I’ll hand you over to your friend and mine, Bryan Armen Graham. He’ll see you through the next hour. Back in a bit!
Justin Rose is going along very nicely. Having turned in 33, he shed a shot at 3, only to pick it up again immediately at 4. He’s just sent his second at the short par-four 7th to three feet, and knocked in to the birdie putt. He’s -3. Brooks Koepka scrambles his par at 8 after leaving his tee shot short and hitting a very average wedge. A 20-foot putt arrowed into the cup saved his bacon. He remains at -4. And on 9, Xander Schauffele joins the clubhouse group at -4, making par to sign for an excellent 66.
Jason Day’s 65 represents his best opening round at a major. He’s not sure the scoring will stay low all week, though. “Usually when you’re around five under, leading on Thursday, typically that goes ten to 15 [as a winning score], somewhere in that region. But with it being a major championship, with the added pressure, it may crawl back if conditions get a little bit tougher.”
Tiger is one turn of the ball from draining a long birdie putt on 6. It would have been his third in a row, but he remains at -2. What his partner McIlroy would give for a par; he pulls a short putt and slips back to level par. Meanwhile Brendan Steele becomes the latest player to rake in from an absurd distance, steering in a 70-footer across 15 for his second birdie in three holes. He’s suddenly -3.
Trouble for Zach Johnson at the long par-three 8th. He sends his tee shot into the cabbage to the left of the hole, then flies his chip through the green and into the thick stuff on the other side. His chip coming back is heavy, and he’s left with a 12-foot bogey putt coming back. In it goes. That’s fine damage limitation, though the dropped shot costs him a share of the lead. He’s -4.
Varying experiences for Jason Day and Martin Kaymer as they play their last hole of the day, the 9th. Bogey for Kaymer, who found himself in a tight spot to the right of the green and couldn’t get up and down, but birdie for Day, who creamed his second from 213 yards to five feet, and popped in the putt. The 2017 champion has rediscovered his form of late, and off he wanders with a broad smile across his boat. He swaps places with Kaymer on the leaderboard, and is the new clubhouse leader.
-5: Day (F), Z Johnson (16*), Cauley (16)
-4: Scheffler (F), Kaymer (F), Schauffele (17*), Koepka (15*)
Back-to-back birdies for Tiger! He picks up shots at 4 and 5, and a round that was threatening to sputter out is revived. He’s -2, and despite there being no gallery at Harding Park, there’s a loud cheer of celebration from the assorted rabble of lanyard-wearers. A crowd follows Tiger where o’er he golfs, even when the attendance is officially zero!
Bud Cauley joins the leaders! He wedges pin high to 15 feet on 16, then rolls in the putt for back-to-back birdies. The 30-year-old Floridian was the passenger in a car accident in 2018, suffering five broken ribs, a broken leg and collapsed lung. He’s rebuilt his career, and already has two top-ten finishes on Tour this season to his name. Relative unknowns have won the PGA before – Daly, Beem, Micheel, Yang – so nothing’s impossible, and what a feelgood story it’d be.
-5: Kaymer (15*), Schauffele (16*), Cauley (16), Z Johnson (16*)
Schauffele can’t get up and down from a greenside bunker at 7 … but it’s a short hole, and he’s still making his par four. Koepka races his first putt at 6 a good 12 feet past the cup … but he arrows a nerveless saver back into the hole. And on the monster par-three 8th (it’s 251 yards) Kaymer sets his hybrid out to the left and fails to fade it back in. He’s in deep oomska … but chips deliciously to four feet and tidies up to save his par.
-5: Kaymer (17*), Schauffele (16*), Z Johnson (15*)
-4: Scheffler (F), Day (17*), Koepka (15*), Cauley (15)
Bud Cauley drains a monster on 15, the best part of 100 feet from the fringe at the front, over a hump to the right, and back into the cup. Such a smooth stroke, too. Exquisitely judged. He’s -4. Compare and contrast with Jordan Spieth, who on paper is looking to complete his career grand slam this week, but in reality isn’t currently in possession of the game to do so. In deep grass to the left of 5, he overhits a flop straight through the green and down the swale on the other side. He’s got the good grace to smile wryly at his error, but he’s got to bundle home from 30 feet if he’s to save par. Nope, and he’s back to +2. He’s struggling badly right now. That Wanamaker-shaped gap on his CV won’t be filled this week. Don’t rule out 2021, though.
McIlroy struggles his way up the par-five 4th. He’s always out of position. And there’s no surprise when he’s left with a 12-footer to save his par. But he makes it. A birdie opportunity may be gone, but that’s a momentum saver, and he remains at -1.
A bogey for Scottie Scheffler at the 9th. But the 24-year-old – born in New Jersey but brought up in Texas – signs for a superb opening round of 66. Scheffler already has two top-three finishes on Tour this year, plus another in the top five. No record in the majors yet, barring his low-amateur finish at the US Open in 2017, but everyone’s got to make their statement victory sometime. There would be worse times to do it.
The winner of the last men’s major, Shane Lowry, has been going around quietly. Pars all the way, other than bogey at 14 followed by birdies at 17 and 1. He’s -1 through 13 holes. Meanwhile the much-tipped Collin Morikawa is piecing things together after going out in 36. He’s birdied 2 and now 4 to rise to -1.
Disaster for the world number one Justin Thomas at the par-three 3rd. His tee shot finds the bunker guarding the front right. He thins the sand escape through the green, then underhits the chip coming back. He can’t make the 15-foot bogey putt, and he slips back to level par. Brooks Koepka meanwhile finds the par-five 4th in two, then takes another couple of calm strokes for the birdie that brings him where he’s been telling everyone he would be. Walking it like he talks it.
-5: Scheffler (17*), Kaymer (15*), Schauffele (14*), Z Johnson (13*)
-4: Day (15*), Koepka (13*)
Xander Schauffele is going to win a major at some point soon. He surely is. He’s already got five top-six finishes at the majors, and he’s only played in 11 of them! Here he sends his wedge over the flag at 5, landing it 12 feet past and spinning it back to kick-in distance. He joins the group at the top.
-5: Scheffler (16*), Kaymer (14*), Schauffele (14*), Z Johnson (13*)
-4: Day (14*)
Hi-jinx dept. Here’s Alex Noren’s current run. Birdie, birdie, bogey, eagle, bogey, bogey, birdie, par. The par is probably the most surprising, it’s only his third of the day and he’s played 11 holes. He’s -3. Meanwhile Scott Piercy has played eight holes so far. Six fours followed by two twos! That sequence involved two birdies, a bogey and an eagle. He’s -3 as well.
Martin Kaymer keeps hold of the joint leadership with a strange two-putt from off the side of the green at 5. Putting up a hill and onto the green in the Scottish style, the ball nearly topples back down the bank, but just about hangs on. Kaymer then rattles in the 25-footer he’s left with! He’s joined there by Scheffler, who sends his second at 7 to 12 feet and guides in the left-to-right slider. Meanwhile birdie for Justin Thomas at 2; the world number one moves to -2. Bogey for his partner Tiger, though, after he misreads a left-breaking ten-footer, and he slips back to level par.
Koepka isn’t concerned by his latest bogey. He creams his second at 2 from 170 yards to six feet. In goes the bounce-back birdie effort, and the defending champ is -3 again. Meanwhile at -4, the early leader Scheffler is joined by his near-namesake Xander Schauffele, who cards his third birdie since the turn at 4.