A TRADEMARK late rally ensured Jordan Spieth kept his bid to become the youngest player to complete a career grand slam on track in the 99th US PGA Championship.
Spieth’s dramatic Open victory at Royal Birkdale means another at Quail Hollow would see him join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in having won all four majors.
But the 24-year-old had to recover from three-over par with three holes to play to card an opening 72 and lie five shots off the lead held by Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen.
US Open champion Brooks Koepka was a shot off the lead along with fellow Americans Grayson Murray, Gary Woodland and Chris Stroud, with England’s Paul Casey another shot back on two under.
Two-time US PGA winner Rory McIlroy was among the later starters and reached the turn in one under after three birdies and two bogeys.
Starting on the back nine alongside fellow 2017 major winners Koepka and Sergio Garcia, Spieth opened with five pars before carding his first birdie on the par-five 15th, only to promptly give the shot back on the next after finding two bunkers.
Spieth also bogeyed the first, one of the new holes constructed at Quail Hollow immediately after it hosted last year’s Wells Fargo Championship, after failing to get up and down from a greenside bunker.
And when he three-putted the fifth and sixth from just off the green, the world No.2 was in danger of seeing his title challenge ruined on the opening day.
However, birdies on the next two holes – courtesy of what Spieth described as a “phenomenal” hybrid into the par-five seventh and a “fantastic” wedge to the eighth – repaired most of the damage.
“Historically I’m pretty solid with the lead so that was kind of the goal,” Spieth said.
“It’s much easier when you are on the front page of the leaderboard than it is coming from behind. Given it’s the first round I know I’m still in it, but I know that tomorrow’s round becomes that much more important to work my way and stay in it. I’ve got to make up ground.
“If I’m five back at the start of the day, I’ve got to be less than five back after Friday to really feel like I can play the way this golf course needs to be played and still be able to win.
“I drove the ball well today. If you told me I was going to hit my driver the way that I did today, I would have definitely thought I shot a few under par. I can’t putt any worse than I did today.”
Olesen had only played 13 majors before this week, but was ninth in the Open in 2012 and finished sixth on his Masters debut the following year.
The 27-year-old was also 10th in last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and carried on where he left off on Sunday with a round containing six birdies and two bogeys.
“I feel like the last two months I’ve been playing very well without really getting any results,” Olesen said. “Last week I was struggling a bit the first two days with my driving but then I sorted that out over the weekend and started making a lot of birdies there.
“I’ve had a couple of top 10s in majors and I feel like I’ve learned a lot over the years. I feel like I’m better prepared to be in contention over the weekend and have a chance to win.
“I feel more confident with myself and my game than I probably did a few years ago. I just have to stay relaxed the next few days, still trying to keep the ball in the fairway, and then I know I can hit it close and make some birdies.”
McIlroy moved to within two shots of the lead with a birdie on the 10th, but bogeyed the 13th after a clumsy chip and then made a complete mess of the short par-four 14th.
After pulling his three-wood tee shot into the water, McIlroy followed a penalty drop with a fluffed pitch before chipping to three feet and missing the bogey putt.
That dropped the four-time major winner back to one over par, while playing partners Jon Rahm and Rickie Fowler both made birdie to improve to two under.
Source : HeraldScotland