Gary Woodland gets it rolling for solo lead in Round 1 of PGA Championship

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Gary Woodland gets it rolling for solo lead in Round 1 of PGA Championship

PGA Tour

Gary Woodland gets it rolling for solo lead in Round 1 of PGA Championship

ST. LOUIS – Bellerive’s wide and soft fairways figured to play right into the bombers’ hands, giving them a big advantage over the rest of the PGA Championship field. Imperfect, receptive greens were expected to serve as an equalizer for below average putters.

Hello, first-round leader Gary Woodland!

The 34-year-old entered the week ranked fifth in strokes gained off the tee and 99th in strokes gained putting, and he tore up the back nine with a 6-under 64 to take the outright lead.

It was the lowest round of the season for Woodland, who won for the third time in Phoenix but hasn’t been able to consistently put it together since February. He holds a one-shot lead over Rickie Fowler while Brandon Stone and Zach Johnson are T-3 at 4 under.

The Topeka, Kansas native was playing about 300 miles from home, the closest he’s ever been on a Tour that doesn’t exactly make too many stops in the Plains states.  So he had plenty of friends and family in the house and said he easily recognized 75-100 of them while trying to stay focused on the task at hand.

“We’re kind of in enemy territory down here in Missouri,” the Kansas grad said. “But the fans were nice to me today as well and I really fed off the energy that was out there surrounding the group, which was pretty cool.”

Woodland has never finished top 10 at a major, one of those guys who always seems on the cusp of taking his game to the next level but can’t quite get there. That goes for the Ryder and Presidents Cup teams as well, and he’s getting tired of the same routine there.

“That’s been as frustrating as my major record,” Woodland said. “I’ve been in the (uniform) fitting I think for the last seven years … I tried all the clothes on, I’ve seen them all, and I’ve just never had a chance to make the team.”

He was also frustrated with his putting this season and said agent Mark Steinberg “had enough of me complaining about it” while the two were staying together at the British Open. He hooked him up with putting coach Phil Kenyon at Carnoustie and something stuck.

Woodland’s 4.364 strokes gained putting in Round 1 led the field by more than a full stroke. He dropped birdie putts of 44 feet at 11 and 23 feet at 12, part of a 5-hole stretch he played in 4 under from holes No. 8-12.

Now he feels like the total package, at least for this week, and he has a big opportunity to ride that into a life-changing win not far from home when he continues at 9:01 a.m. ET Friday.

“The putting was the last thing, because I’ve being hitting the ball very well,” Woodland said. “Now when I get out of position I have the short game to give myself a chance. And to see putts go in was very, very cool.”

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