ST. LOUIS — The extreme scoring onslaught predicted for Bellerive failed to materialize in Round 1 of the PGA Championship thanks to a combination of factors.
Make no mistake, by major standards the scoring was excellent: 47 players broke par. Leader Gary Woodland posted a back-nine 30 thanks to seven birdies en route to 64, one off the tournament record for low opening-round score.
To put the day’s scoring into historical perspective, the PGA Championship first-round record came in 2006 when 60 players were in red figures at Medinah. The first round at Bellerive didn’t even come close to matching the next two birdie-barrage openers, 1993 (Inverness) and 1995 (Riviera), where 57 players broke par.
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Theories abound as to why greens this soft did not yield even lower scores: tougher-than-normal-first-round hole locations, lack of player familiarity with the course and resurgent fescue rough from Tuesday’s rains.
“The rough’s pretty thick out there for the guys if you don’t hit the fairways,” said Jim Furyk (69) when asked if he was surprised only -5 (at the time) was leading. “I probably thought someone would shoot lower and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone still does.”
Granted, only a handful of players tested more than 18 holes in practice rounds and golf balls were seen taking hard dives at the hole on the 10th and 18th greens. But the architectural severity of several greens proved challenging despite the soft conditions.
“There’s those big spines running through them,” Furyk said. “Although some of them are quite large, they’re cut up into smaller areas and if you get in the wrong spot, it can be difficult.”
Rory McIlroy pointed to swirling winds as weather passed south of the course, but also refuted the notion of expected low scoring.
“I didn’t hear any of that from the players,” he said after a 70. “That’s from people that aren’t playing in the tournament that haven’t played the golf course, and they really don’t know.”
But another player in the tournament, Stewart Cink (67) warned of more low scores to come.
“This course is going to really reward ball hitting,” he said. “You’re going to have realistic looks at birdies on a lot of holes. You can score from this course if you play from the fairway.”