KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – We’ve all done it. Come to work not feeling our best, unsure if we could even handle the stapler correctly. In team sports, that can be a problem, but at least there are teammates to help carry the load.
In stroke-play championship life, there are no teammates, just a caddie – and he can do only so much.
For Pat Perez, everything about Thursday morning was horrific, including his warmup on the Ocean Course’s driving range, where the balls were going left and right, with Perez struggling to understand why.
“I didn’t want to go out there,” Perez said after a 3-under 69, his best score in a PGA Championship since a final-round 68 in 2007 at Southern Hills. “It took everything I had just to actually go to the tee. I didn’t want to go.”
Perez missed the cut last week at the Reno-Tahoe Open, a tournament in which he was runner-up last year. Determined to work on his game during the rest of the week, Perez found something in his swing, which made him almost giddy with excitement Monday.
“It was unbelievable,” Perez said of his Monday practice session. “I hit balls on Monday, and it was unbelievable how good it was. And then it started to fade on Tuesday, and yesterday it was pretty much gone, and today it was toast.”
Perez’s swing key was to shorten his backswing. When he tried it in Thursday’s first round, it didn’t work and he was left scrambling.
Perez birdied the first hole with a cut driver and a 9-iron from 139 yards, which might indicate that he would be off and running. However, Perez looked at it differently.
“When I made birdie, I thought, OK, now I’ve got one to give away,” Perez said. “That was kind of my thinking, just have enough to give away so you just keep yourself out in front. I didn’t want to get so far behind that I couldn’t catch up, and every time I would birdie, I kept making par saves and par saves.”
Perez would have taken an 8-over 80 this week when he stood on the 10th tee. But after a good start that included playing the difficult back nine at 2 under, he was encouraged.
“That was an 85 into a 69 today; it really was,” Perez said. “I wasn’t expecting anything, which is usually when I do better anyway. I didn’t expect anything, so I figured, What the hell? I’m just going to go out there and hit it somewhere. Hopefully, I can hit it again.”
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WHEN YOU’RE HOT . . . You wish for the wind to start blowing, even a little bit, and the fact that it did pretty much helped Keegan Bradley.
“On the 14th tee, it was one of the hottest moments of my life,” said the defending champion, who was already in a bit of a furnace, given that he was paired alongside Tiger Woods. “I’m so happy it started blowing.”
Bradley’s game was as hot as the weather, birdies at three of the first eight holes added to with a birdie at the 10th, then an eagle at 11th. He was 6-under and smoking hot, but he made three bogeys against a birdie over the final six holes to settle for a 68.
That left him in a tie for fifth, two back, and he was clearly enjoying the way it had unfolded.
“Any time I get to play with Tiger, I really enjoy it. Weather cooperated for us in the morning, so we can’t ask for much more than that.”
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FINALLY: Ryo Ishikawa played the front nine in 34 to come home in 69 and post his first-ever sub-70 round in a major championship on American soil. Though he’s playing in his 15th major, it’s easy to forget that the Japanese phenom is just 20 years old.
Having missed the cut in all three majors this season and in nine of 14 in his career, Ishikawa played rock-solid alongside Darren Clarke and Gary Woodland.
Though he made four bogeys, Ishikawa offset them with five birdies, including at the par-3 5th and par-5 7th.
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POWER TURNS ON: With a 5-under 67, Gary Woodland posted his lowest score since closing with a 66 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Woodland was T-12 in his PGA Championship debut in 2011, a season in which he made the cut in all four majors, but injuries have slowed him this year. Woodland withdrew after the third round of the Masters, missed the cut at the U.S. Open, and was T-34 in the Open Championship, so it’s clearly been a letdown.
But feeling healthy for the first time this season, Woodland is taking advantage of his prodigious length. He had an eagle, a birdie, and two pars on the par 5s and feels good about things.
“I drove the ball as best I’ve driven it all year and when I drive it like that, I’m playing a game that most guys can’t play out here,” Woodland said.
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REMEMBER HIM? Lost in the glow of Tiger Woods’ opening 69 was the dismal round put up by one of his playing competitors, Martin Kaymer.
It’s just installment in a confounding mystery that surrounds the former No. 1.
Since he won the 2010 PGA Championship, Kaymer has hardly looked like a major champion. He’s missed the cut in three of seven starts in the majors and hasn’t recorded a finish inside the top 10.
The misery has actually seeped into his overall game, because Kaymer hasn’t finished top 10 this year since Malaysia in April.
With Woods and Keegan Bradley (68) stealing the show, Kaymer shot 79 and appears headed for a second consecutive missed cut in this championship.
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BUT DID HE ENJOY THE PRACTICE FACILITIES? Jerry Kelly’s long wait proved fruitless. He never got into the championship, having waited for more than a day as first alternate.
He had been second alternate, but Chris Stroud got into the field Tuesday when Ben Crane withdrew.
No one else bowed out, so after spending several days hitting balls, Kelly left, too. It’s the first time since 1998 that Kelly has gone a season without teeing it up in a major.
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• POOR TIMING: Ken Duke, who is third in first-round scoring average on the PGA Tour at 69.52, has shown that he can start fast. However, the final two rounds have given the Arkansas native fits.
So when Duke made the turn at 3-under 33 and then birdied the 10th hole, he was on form for the first round. Then, his group was put on the clock for slow play and eventually Duke’s round would go south, partly due to the timing, which Duke said in hindsight feels was unwarranted.
“I felt like we were rushing all day, and then I gave them an earful when we finished, and they said that the time par is 4:40,” Duke said after finishing at 1-under 71. “Are you kidding me? There’s no way you can play this golf course in 4:40. It’s ridiculous.”
Duke went on to say that the officials discussed the issue of getting enough time for everyone to finish.
“I said, ‘OK, if we’re going to be on the clock, you’d better make sure every big-time player is on the clock,’ ” Duke said, recalling his retort to the rules officials. “I don’t want to hear any ifs, ands or buts.”
The first group on Thursday went off at 7:20 and finished at 12:20, and the first group in the afternoon wave was scheduled to play at 12:30.
“If you’re going to put a time bar on, make the setup a little easier,” Duke said. “It is what it is. I’m just disappointed in the way they do it. They always talk time par, time par, slow play. There’s guys that can play their own pace, and there’s guys that cannot. There’s no time par for some guys, but for some guys there are. It’s ridiculous.”
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• THAT SINKING FEELING: Jeev Milkha Singh struggled to a 3-over 75, so the last thing he needed was a visit from the rules officials. But that’s exactly what he got. After pulling his drive left on the par-5 16th hole, Singh was about to hit his second shot from a good lie in the rough. When Singh took his backswing, the ball sank into the grass and Singh was assessed a stroke, changing his 75 to a 76.
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SHORT SHOTS: Geoff Ogilvy’s 68 was his best round in a major since shooting that same score in Round 2 of the 2007 PGA. He has missed the cut in the PGA each of the last two years . . . . . Jason Dufner’s 74 was his highest opening round since a 78 to start the RBC Heritage in April. He followed that with a 66 and will need to do similarly to get himself into contention . . . . . It was a rough go of things for Kyle Stanley, who only recently moved out of South Carolina to live in Scottsdale, Ariz. With four 6s on his scorecard, Stanley shot 80.