KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – It was a benign opening round at Kiawah Island, where soft conditions and gentle wind allowed players to shoot plenty of low scores. Here’s 5 Things you need to know from the PGA Championship’s first round:
• • •
1. LOW COUNTRY: It was a common retort from players who teed it up Thursday morning. “I think we’ve seen it play about as easy as it can get,” Carl Pettersson said about an Ocean Course that failed to live up to its reputation. Pettersson is the PGA Championship’s after a bogey-free 66 in the first round. Four of his six birdies came on putts of seven feet or shorter. He also holed a pair of 25-foot birdie putts. He’s one shot ahead of Gary Woodland, Rory McIlroy, Alexander Noren and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.
Twenty-four players shot in the 60s Thursday, and 44 were under par. Even the Ocean Course’s length wasn’t a defense. On Thursday, Kiawah Island played just eight yards shorter than its scorecard yardage of 7,676 yards.
Kiawah Island played soft because of rain earlier in the week. There was no wind Thursday morning, either. This allowed players to attack what can be, under the right conditions, a torturous layout.
“I’m expecting this to be the best day of the week,” Rory McIlroy said. “I think everyone is.”
Friday’s forecast calls for a high of 89 degrees with a 50 percent chance of rain and winds up to 20 mph.
• • •
2. STRONG DEFENSE: Keegan Bradley said he got chills when he was announced as the PGA Championship’s defending champion. His title defense got off to a strong start with a 4-under 68 that featured six birdies and two three-putt bogeys. He was 3 under after two holes, making birdie on No. 10, his first hole of the day, and an eagle on the par-5 11th.
“It was a little surprising almost,” Bradley said. “The shot I hit on 2, the 11th hole, was pretty good. And that was big to help calm me down maybe a little bit and focus.”
He’s not just seeking a second consecutive PGA Championship, but a second victory in as many starts. Bradley arrived at Kiawah Island after winning last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Bradley played Thursday with Tiger Woods, who shot 69, and Martin Kaymer, who struggled to a 79.
• • •
3. COMFORTABLE SETTING: Rory McIlroy has had success at two courses that can be compared to Kiawah Island. He was third at the 2010 PGA Championship – one shot outside the Bubba Watson-Martin Kaymer playoff – at another Pete Dye design with linksy influences, Whistling Straits. McIlroy’s lone major title, the 2011 U.S. Open, was won on a Congressional course that was uncharacteristically forgiving for a major-championship layout.
McIlroy shot 67 Thursday, one shot off Pettersson’s lead, and perhaps his summer slump is coming to an end. He was fifth at last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, his best finish since his runner-up finish at May’s Wells Fargo Championship. McIlroy had finished in the top-5 in six of his first seven events in 2012.
McIlroy credited his recent turnaround to a tip from his putting instructor, two-time PGA Championship winner Dave Stockton. Stockton recently told McIlroy to smile more on the course. McIlroy also adjusted his practice habits.
“I was working very hard on technical stuff for the last few weeks, and then a slight mental adjustment as well,” McIlroy said. “I feel like I was hitting too many balls on the range. I just needed to go out there and play a bit more on the course and see shots.”
• • •
4. HOT PUTTER: Tiger Woods needed just 22 putts in his first-round 69. That’s the good news. He hit just 10 of 18 greens in regulation, though, and nine of 14 fairways.
“I putted well on the weekend (at Bridgestone), made a few adjustments Friday night last week, and felt like I hit a lot of good putts,” he said Thursday. “Started the ball on my start lines again …, which is good. Came here with the same thoughts, same feels, and I made a few today.”
Woods was 57th in strokes gained-putting at last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
• • •
5. SHORT SHOTS: Adam Scott shot 68 in his first major round since his Open Championship meltdown. Graeme McDowell, who joined Scott in the Open Championship’s final group, also shot 68 Thursday. McDowell also played in the final group of this year’s U.S. Open. … John Daly, the 1991 PGA champion, shot 68. It was the first time he broke 70 at the PGA Championship since the opening round at Southern Hills in 2007. He followed that score with three consecutive 73s. … Webb Simpson, the U.S. Open champion, shot 79 in his first competitive round in more than a month. He wasn’t the only major champion to struggle. Martin Kaymer, the 2010 PGA champion, also shot 79. … Gary Woodland, finally pain free after a cyst ruptured in his left wrist at the Masters, shot 67. … Scott Piercy continued his good form, shooting 68. He’s finished in the top-20 in his past four PGA Tour starts, including a win at the Canadian Open and third-place finish at the John Deere Classic.