5 Things: Cheeseheads Stricker, Kelly out front

Steve Stricker hits a drive on the second hole during the first round of the PGA Championship golf tournament Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011, at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Ga.

Steve Stricker hits a drive on the second hole during the first round of the PGA Championship golf tournament Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011, at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Ga.

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JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Five things to take from the first round of the PGA Championship:

1.) Feeling cheesy: There’s a pair of Wisconsinites atop the leaderboard at Atlanta Athletic Club. Steve Stricker shot 63 to tie the lowest round in major-championship history. His good friend and practice-round partner, Jerry Kelly, is two shots back.

Stricker began the day low on confidence after struggling during his practice rounds at the Rees Jones-renovated layout.

“I really felt like I was in trouble coming into this tournament,” Stricker said. “I really didn't feel that good on the course.”

He should be feeling fine now. While Stricker struggled during pre-tournament prep, Kelly found confidence. Before Thursday, Kelly had shot in the 60s just once in his previous 28 major rounds, having made the cut in just two of his previous 12 Grand Slam events. His 65 matched the lowest major round of his career.

“We saw that you really didn’t need to overpower this golf course, that position was the key,” Kelly said. “It certainly helped me.”

2.) Wristy business: The handshake was awkward, but not because of the relationship between the two participants. No, there was pause as countrymen Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke exchanged pleasantries on Atlanta Athletic Club’s 18th green because McIlroy extended the other hand. His right hand and forearm were covered in athletic tape, measures taken to make it possible for the U.S. Open champion to play this round, so he had to shake with his left hand.

McIlroy injured his wrist when he struck a tree root while hitting a tee shot on the third hole. A trainer visited him on several holes to ensure that he could continue. He also used ice and the athletic tape to continue playing. Despite the injury, McIlroy shot even-par 70. He visited a local hospital after the round for an MRI.

“It was always there in my mind, so to shoot even par, it was a good effort,” McIlroy said of the pain. “If I can strap it up and play tomorrow I will.”

McIlroy was paired with Charl Schwartzel and Darren Clarke in the traditional grouping of the year’s major champions. Schwartzel shot 71, while Clarke struggled to 78.

3.) Great Scott: Adam Scott followed his WGC-Bridgestone Invitational win with a 1-under 69 Thursday.

“I wasn't perfect by any stretch of the means out there,” said Scott, runner-up in this year’s Masters. “It wasn't bad, though. But just managed myself nicely around the course.”

Jason Day, runner-up at both the Masters and U.S. Open, also followed a strong Bridgestone with a strong first round at Atlanta Athletic Club, at least for 14 holes. Day was 3 under through 14, but shot 1-over 71.

Other notable scores: Matteo Manassero (68), Davis Love III (68), Gary Woodland (70), Jhonattan Vegas (70), Phil Mickelson (71), Jim Furyk (71), Lee Westwood (71), David Toms (72), Paul Casey (72), Martin Kaymer (72), Sergio Garcia (72), Hunter Mahan (72), Ernie Els (74), Anthony Kim (74), Rickie Fowler (74), Dustin Johnson (75), Vijay Singh (76), Darren Clarke (78) and Ryo Ishikawa (85).

4.) Not out of the Woods: Tiger Woods’ PGA Championship got off to such a promising start. He was 3 under through five holes, but played his next 13 holes in 10 over. The 77 is Woods' highest opening-round score in a major. His previous high was a 76, which he shot on three occasions. Woods has missed the cut three times in 61 majors, twice as a professional.

“It's going to be a lot,” Woods said, when asked what he needs to change for the second round. “It's a laundry list.”

Woods wasn’t the only one to struggle after a hot start. Bubba Watson birdied Nos. 12-15 to go 4 under for his first six holes. He parred the next two holes, then bogeyed five in a row (Nos. 18-4). Throw in another bogey and double bogey, and it added up to 74.

Watson’s Twitter message for the day? “I suck at golf,” he said.

Things went downhill after Watson’s 10th hole, when he was distracted by a volunteer pounding a stake. “It happened right when I swung and I lost focus, and lost focus for the rest of the day, and I was mad,” Watson said. “I wasn't mad at the volunteer, I was mad at myself because I just lost focus.”

5.) Join the club: Bob Sowards, a teaching pro at New Albany (Ohio) Country Club, shot 1-under 69 Thursday and finds himself in contention. He’d never broken par in four previous PGA appearances, missing the cut each time. Sowards, one of the best playing club professionals in the nation, held a PGA Tour card as recently as 2008, after advancing through Q-School. He finished 188th on the money list, with a T-9 at the Wyndham Championship as his best finish. Sowards got into the PGA Championship by finishing 12th at the PGA Professional National Championship, an event he won in 2004. He was the PGA’s Professional Player of the Year from 2003-05.

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