JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – This time, there would be no layup at Atlanta Athletic Club’s 18th hole.
“I had it right in the middle of the fairway, 200 to 210 yards,” David Toms said after Thursday’s first round of the 93rd PGA Championship. “I figured if I ever was going to go for it, this was the time.”
There was a sly smile on his face, and for good reason. Toms and the closing hole at AAC will forever be linked in golf folklore. Nursing a one-stroke lead at the 2001 PGA Championship, Toms drove into right rough at the 18th hole and chose to lay up in front of a pond that guards the green. With a smooth wedge and a 10-foot roll, Toms saved par, hoisted the trophy and earned major distinction.
Several practice rounds this week had assured Toms that it was a longer and more demanding Atlanta Athletic Club, but he said he benefitted from a few tees having been moved up. At the 18th, for instance, instead of playing 507 yards, the par 4 was set up at 491.
OK, it doesn’t sound like much, but Toms knows he needs every foot they’ll give him here. So, with a solid drive and a 4-iron that was even more pure, Toms hit an approach within 10 feet and made that. On top of the brilliant birdie at the par-3 17th, it helped Toms shoot 2-over 72.
Not great, but neither did it leave him discouraged.
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ROUGH AT THE EDGES: Phil Mickelson started his day by three-putting from about 5 feet at the par-4 10th, and he ended it with a bogey at the relatively benign par-4 ninth. In between? There were a lot of pars, two birdies, just one other bogey, and enough to leave him shaking his head.
“Certainly not what I wanted,” Mickelson said after posting 1- over 71. “But I feel like my game is right there.”
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SO, HOW DID HE EVER WIN?: It was 20 years ago when the legend of John Daly was born.
The victory at Crooked Stick remains a historic moment, but so, too, does Daly remain a total mystery since then. When he went without a birdie in a round of 77, Daly’s woes in the season’s final major continued. Seemingly headed toward a missed-cut for the 14th time in 19 PGAs since Crooked Stick, Daly has played 45 rounds and is a mind-boggling 154 over par.
His first-place check in 1991 was for $230,000. Daly has earned just $66,225 in PGAs since.
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HE WANTS TO BE A TEAM GUY: Bob Sowards, one of 20 club pros in the field, two-putted for par at his 18th hole, the par-4 ninth, and when he walked off the green he looked up to see Jim Remy, past president of the PGA of America, there to shake hands.
They exchanged smiles, too, and for good reason. Sowards is trying to work his way onto captain Remy’s PGA Cup team that will take on a squad from Great Britain & Ireland in mid-September. To do so, Sowards needs to make the cut here, and that’s annually a tall task for the club pros.
Sowards is off to a great start, though.
Out in 34 over AAC’s back nine, the man from New Albany (Ohio) CC came home in 35, his round of 1-under 69 leaving him tied with such notables as Adam Scott, Stewart Cink and Miguel Angel Jimenez, and eight shots better than Tiger Woods.
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ROOKIE RECOVERY: Sitting 3 over through four holes, Keegan Bradley found himself off to a rough start in his first major championship. But with four birdies between the sixth and 15th holes, Bradley battled back to even par before a bogey at 18 left him at 1 over 71.
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WHEN YOU’VE GOT TO GO, YOU’VE GOT TO GO: Padraig Harrington seemed to be in a bit of rush to get to the first tee in his marquee pairing with Tiger Woods and Davis Love III. The answer was simple: “Couldn’t find the toilet.”
Actually, the Irishman said that was a problem all day.
“I had to leave the course three times to find a toilet,” he said. “I don’t know what the story is. Wherever they are, they are well hidden.”
Harrington needs a strong finish in this tournament to move up in the FedEx Cup rankings, or he’ll be outside the top 125 and not eligible for the playoffs. To that point, it was a mixed bag, because though he shot 73, which has him 10 off the lead, Harrington drew comfort in the fact that he birdied his 18th hole, the par-4 ninth, after having bogeyed No. 8.
“You feel better with a bogey, birdie finish than a birdie, bogey finish,” Harrington said. “They are all the same thing, but that’s golf. Very fickle.”
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FAST START, SLOW FINISH: Ross Fisher birdied four of his first five holes to seize the lead. But almost as quickly, he fell back, with four bogeys over a seven-hole stretch.
“I said to Adam (Murrow, Fisher’s caddie) walking off the ninth (his 18th hole), ‘Funny enough, it feels like I only hit maybe three loose shots, really.’ “
It was all in Fisher’s putting. Going out on the back holes, the Englishman had five consecutive one-putts and a total of 14. On the front nine, Fisher needed 16 putts and one-putted just twice.
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HOT STUFF? NOT TO HIM: Trevor Immelman, off at 2 p.m. and playing well past dinner time, laughed when he was asked about the afternoon heat.
He lives in Orlando, Fla., where it’s been a lot hotter than what he faced in Round 1. “I almost put a sweater on,” Immelman said with a smile.
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TURBULENCE COMING HOME: Matt Kuchar was playing beautifully through 11 holes, 3 under and seemingly headed for better things. Then, crash.
His second shot into the par-5 12th bounced well left and came flush up against a chain-link fence that left him with one option – try and hit it backward. “I had to really hood the club and go left,” Kuchar said. “There was just one tree and we didn’t see it as a problem.”
A problem, it was, because Kuchar hit it flush and that pushed the ball back against the fence. “It was in an identical positon, only a worse lie.”
He wound up with a double bogey at a hole that played to a field average of 4.878 and was second easiest. Then, two holes later, Kuchar made another double, bedeviled twice by AAC’s treacherous bunkers.
“Uncharacteristic of me,” Kuchar said of the big hiccups.
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FINISHING KICK: It was a different story for Kuchar’s playing competitor, second-ranked Lee Westwood. Sitting 2 over through eight holes and facing a demanding stretch, the Englishman played bogey-free and closed things out with a wild birdie at the 18th to post 71.
Just don’t get carried away with the birdie, because even Westwood conceded, “I turned a 6 into a 3.”
That’s because his pulled tee shot was headed toward water when the ball struck the rock wall and bounced right and forward so that he had just 154 to the hole. Mind you, most players faced approach shots in the neighborhood of 200.
Taking advantage, Westwood nailed a shot to 4 feet, made one of nine birdies at a hole that played toughest, and breathed a sigh of relief.
We’re not sure what Westwood thought of the 18th, but Ryan Palmer didn’t mince words.
“It’s a stupid hole,” he said. “It sets up great as a par 5 at 530 or 540, but a par 4 at 497? I just don’t get it.”
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FEELING LEFT OUT: Mark Wilson felt pretty good about his 1 under 69, and he should have. It left him in a tie for 13th.
Then again, fellow Wisconsinites Steve Stricker (63) and Jerry Kelly (65) were setting the pace, so Wilson kidded that he hadn’t upheld the state honor.
Asked what the story is with this Wisconsin parade atop the leaderboard, Wilson said, “same kind of grass (zoysia), same kind of weather (hotter than hot).”
Yes, he was kidding.
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HELPING THE FOREIGNER: As Westwood toured Atlanta Athletic Club with Kuchar, he kept hearing all this talk about yellowjackets. Finally, Kuchar had to explain that he had played his college golf at Georgia Tech right up the street and that was their nickname.
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WANT TO WAGER?: Steve Stricker on the strength of 63 is now 9-4 to win his first major. Luke Donald, having opened with a 70, is next at 12-1, while Rory McIlroy, who had begun the tournament as the favorite, has slipped to 15-1.
Tiger Woods? He’s 200-1 to win his 15th major.
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SHORT SHOTS: The free-swingers didn’t exactly enjoy things at the par-5 12th hole. Tommy Gainey made a quadruple-bogey 9 at the 12th hole in his round of 81, and J.B. Holmes (80) and Darren Clarke made 8s. Jeff Overton (75) made double, as did Kuchar, who had been bogey-free up to that point . . . . Desperately in need of a strong major championship to turn his fortunes around, Jim Furyk opened with a 70. Might not sound like much, but it’s his best start in a major this year. In his past seven opening rounds, Furyk had been a whopping 22 over . . . . Brendan Jones is used to flying from Down Under at the last minute to join either a World Golf Championship or a major, but that experience didn’t pay off. He opened with a birdie-free 78. “I haven’t played in seven weeks, so I shouldn’t have expected much,” the Aussie said. . . . Jones was one of 12 players who failed to make a birdie . . . . . Three players went bogey-free: Stricker (63), Micheel (66) and Brandt Jobe (68) . . . . . Sowards was the only club pro to break par . . . . Geoff Ogilvy played 17 holes in level par, but he rinsed a few tee shots at the par-3 fourth and made a quintuple bogey to shoot 75 . . . . . The field average was 73.109 and only three holes (the par-5 fifth; par-4 10th; and par-5 12th) played under par.