LOUISVILLE, Ky. – There was plenty of red to go around Thursday at the 96th PGA Championship at Valhalla, with 52 players finishing under par while a few stars were seeing red due to poor rounds in ideal conditions.
Lee Westwood (read more here), Kevin Chappell (read more here) and Ryan Palmer finished 18 holes tied for the lead after 6-under 65s, while Jim Furyk, Rory McIlroy, Chris Wood, Henrik Stenson and Edoardo Molinari are a stroke back. There are 32 players four shots back or less.
From Tiger Woods’ dismal 74 to Phil Mickelson’s 69, here are 5 Things to take away from Day 1 in Kentucky:
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1. LETTING IT HAPPEN: Ryan Palmer isn’t a household name, nor has he had the results in 2014 to have registered on anyone’s radar heading into this week at Valhalla. But the Texan says he felt his low round coming; it was just a matter of being patient enough for it to show up.
“After Colonial I felt like I was playing good golf, just couldn’t get a round in there. I missed a U.S. Open cut, but made the cut at the Scottish and British Open. Played decent in D.C., but couldn’t get that low round in there,” said Palmer, ranked No. 63 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
“So I knew my game was in good shape, it was just a matter of getting the result. It was nice to final get a result out of it.”
Palmer is 38th in the FedEx Cup standings behind five top-10 finishes, including runner-ups at the Humana Challenge and the Honda Classic.
But major championships haven’t been so kind to Palmer, as the Texas A&M product has missed eight cuts in 18 attempts, with only one top 10 under his belt – taking 10th at the 2011 Masters.
“It’s great knowing that I can come out tomorrow and keep moving forward and try to build on where I’m at,” said Palmer. “It’s hard to come out when you are struggling Thursday and you come out Friday knowing you got to shoot low to make the cut.”
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2. HEATING UP? Phil Mickelson fired a 62 Sunday at the WGC-Bridgestone to give the veteran some hope for his first top 10 of the season at the PGA Championship.
His start Thursday wasn’t the prettiest, sending his first drive over the large gallery on the left side of the 10th fairway – “It was so far left I don’t even know what to say. I was lucky it wasn’t out of bounds. Horrific,” Mickelson quipped – but managed to hack his way around the hole to save par. That was the story of his first nine holes, posting three bogeys and two birdies in making the turn at 1 over.
But Mickelson found a groove on his incoming nine – he started on the back – and drained three birdies against no bogeys for a 2-under 69.
“Given the first eight holes, it was a good start,” Mickelson said. “I thought I was ready to let loose. I though I had a mid to low 60s round in me. I thought I was going to light it up.
“I’m appreciative that I was able to get settled in, hit some good shots, make some good birdies and get myself in position to move up the leaderboard rather than just trying to be back in position.”
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3. HE’S SO SWEDE: Henrik Stenson has compiled one of the best 18 months that any golfer can ask for, winning the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai titles last season with a torrid finish.
Over his last five majors, Stenson has also compiled a second-, third- and fourth-place finish – leaving just that elusive first title as a goal for the Swede.
Stenson got off to a good start Thursday, securing a 5-under 66 behind six birdies and a single bogey. Stenson pointed to his putter as the key ingredient in his first round.
“Probably with average putting, I would have shot 1 or 2 under, but it was really the blade that made the score for me today,” said Stenson. “The hard work on the putting green has paid off today.”
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4. OH, TIGER, WHERE ART THOU? Tiger Woods’ struggles on the course continued Thursday, as the four-time PGA champion had one birdie against four bogeys in an opening 3-over 74.
Woods missed three birdie opportunities inside of 18 feet, while also parring all three par-5s at Valhalla.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Fifty-two players finished at 1 under or better. The field flirted with the PGA Championship record of 60 for much of the day, but fell off late. … Some big names will need to go low Friday to secure a spot on the weekend, including Graeme McDowell, Webb Simpson and Brandt Snedeker at 2 over, while Harris English and Keegan Bradley both joined Woods at 3 over. … Club pro Aaron Krueger posted the worst round of the day with a 13-over 84. … The hardest hole on the course was the par-4 second, average 4.487; the easiest was the par-5 18th with an average of 4.6242. … There were 493 bogeys and 81 double bogeys Thursday.