Recap of the day
Morning wave: After the brown, bouncing fairways of burnt-out Carnoustie, it was welcome to the vibrant green and target golf of rain-softened Bellerive. That said, no-one took it apart in the morning with Rickie Fowler’s 65 good enough to lead. Fowler changed his scripted blue shirt to yellow as a tribute to Aussie Jarrod Lyle, who so sadly passed away on the eve of the tournament. An eight-man bunch in T2 with 67s included 2015 PGA winner Jason Day, former Open champion Stewart Cink and last week’s R1 Firestone leader Ian Poulter.
Afternoon wave: Slow greens were the course’s main defense as time after time players left putts short. South African Brandon Stone finally bridged the gap between Fowler and the 3-unders by recording a 66 before Gary Woodland set the new figure of 6-under after a seven-birdie 64. Dustin Johnson had earlier threatened the lead after hitting 5-under but bogeyed two of the easier holes on his inward nine to join the big group on 67. Justin Rose, Kevin Kisner, and Thomas Pieters all became a part of that bunch too. Zach Johnson also added his name to the list of contenders when his short game carved out a 4-under 66 to join Stone in a share of third place.
Leaderboard: -6 Gary Woodland, -5 Rickie Fowler, -4 Brandon Stone, Zach Johnson -3 Austin Cook, Ian Poulter, Pat Perez, Jason Day, Brian Gay, Stewart Cink, Ollie Schniederjans, Dustin Johnson, Kevin Kisner, Justin Rose, Thomas Pieters.
Notables: -2 Francesco Molinari, Jon Rahm, -1 Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Evs Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson, +1 Jordan Spieth, +2 Patrick Reed, +3 Henrik Stenson, Phil Mickelson,
Revised outright betting: 6/1 Dustin Johnson, 7/1 Rickie Fowler, 11/1 Jason Day, 15/1 Gary Woodland, Justin Rose, 23/1 Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, 25/1 Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, 28/ Francesco Molinari.
Friday weather forecast
Lots of sunshine, some cloud and temperatures climbing into the early 90s. There’s a chance of a thunderstorm after 4pm tomorrow. The weekend suggests more high temps but no more rain so the course has the chance to dry out a little.
Leaders after 18 holes
Gary Woodland (64) – They say many a good round starts with a bogey and that was Woodland today. But after missing a seven-footer for par at the 1st and following it with six pars he played the final 11 holes in 7-under. Found 10 (of 14) fairways, hit 15 greens and had a hot putter. Nice recipe.
Rickie Fowler (65) – Back in 31 to take a two-shot clubhouse lead after the morning session. Missed just two greens in regulation and gained over six shots tee-to-green. This is the major for those looking to make the big breakthrough so Rickie has put himself in position.
Brandon Stone (66) – So that 60 in the final round to win last month’s Scottish Open wasn’t a fluke! A balanced attack today from the South African, who also opened with a 68 at Carnoustie before fading to T61.
Jason Day (67) – Was striping it for most of last week and it was a repeat performance today. The Aussie missed just one green in the right number and hit 12 fairways out of 14.
Fate of the favourites
Dustin Johnson (67) – Clumsy start, played the sixth to the 13th like a god (6-under), clumsy finish. It all added up to a 67. DJ has flexed his muscles but some tidying up still needed. Hit 14 greens.
Rory McIlroy (70) – Okay, but there’s a feeling that vintage 2014 Rory would have shot 64 or 65 in these conditions. Hit 15 greens but the putter let him down today.
Justin Thomas (69) – Looked like he was carrying on from last week’s Firestone win when taking the lead with three birdies in his opening six holes but had to settle for a 69 as the putts wouldn’t drop. Still, that’s four shots better than his opener when winning at Quail Hollow last year.
Rickie Fowler (65): “Just played some pretty simple, stress-free golf. I think we did a really good job of staying patient and committing to the game plan of playing within ourselves.“
Ian Poulter (67): “It’s playing soft. It’s had a lot of moisture and the humidity levels keep the course quite green and wet. I played pretty solid today. 3-under-par’s a decent start I think. I could have been a bit better, could have holed a few more putts but it’s a good start.”
Jason Day (67): “I didn’t putt that great today. I hit 17 greens out there. I’m not too worried about it to be honest. If I keep being patient, I think they’re going to fall in by the end of the week. I think I’ll give myself a good shot.”
Justin Thomas (69): “Even though it’s soft it’s still a hard golf course. The rough is still very penal. And it is hard to make some putts out there. Got a couple of bad breaks the last few holes but it’s still under par in the first round of a major. I’m in a perfectly fine spot.”
Rory McIlroy (70): “It’s long, if you don’t hit it in the fairway you get penalized. It was tough to hole putts. That was my thing today. Overall, it wasn’t bad, could have been better but could have been worse as well.”
Tiger Woods (70): After changing his shirt after just three holes. “As you know, I sweat a lot, and I lose a bunch of weight. I have the hardest time during summer maintaining weight. No matter what I eat, no matter what I drink, I just can't maintain weight. So this heat is one of the issues that I have. Normally I change before the round. There wasn't a place to change on the 10th tee (his first hole). So I waited until we had a little port-a-John there.”
Dustin Johnson (67): "The fairways are plenty wide. If you miss it, you mis-hit it, it's not going to be on the fairway. You miss the fairway, you're really going to struggle.”
Gary Woodland (64): "This week is close to home as I've been. I snuck over here about a month ago and played and saw the golf course. Really enjoyed the layout. The turfs very similar to me, very familiar to me. We don't play on Zoysia very often. It's so hot here during the summer so the greens are soft and slow, you can be more aggressive, which suits my game. ”
Road to victory in the PGA
2017 Justin Thomas – R1: 44th, R2: 7th, R3: 4th
2016 Jimmy Walker – R1: 1st, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
2015 Jason Day – R1: 3rd, R2: 2nd, R3: 1st
2014 Rory McIlroy – R1: 4th, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
2013 Jason Dufner – R1: 11th, R2: 1st, R3: 2nd
Notes: Four of the last six winners were in the top four after 18 holes although Justin Thomas (2018), Martin Kaymer (2010) and YE Yang (2009) were all T44 following the first lap. This has been the best recent major for making up big first-round deficits. Thomas was six back after R1 last year, as were Tiger Woods (2007) and Yang. Keegan Bradley was eight adrift before charging through to triumph in 2011.
Fate of the first-round leaders at the PGA – where did they finish?
2016 Jimmy Walker – 1st
2015 Dustin Johnson – 7th
Notes: Only three first-round leaders in the last 20 years have gone on to win and each of that trio (Jimmy Walker, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods) went wire-to-wire. In general, a fast start equals a healthy pay cheque and 13 of the last 14 players to have a piece of the R1 lead have gone on to finish in the top 15. DJ could only finish T7 when leading in 2015 by the way.
Focus On – Big hitters v short hitters
We were told in the build-up that the long, wet and soft par 70 would play into the hands of the big hitters and make length off the tee a huge advantage. So did that play out? We got our answer fairly early today when Austin Cook, Brian Gay and Ian Poulter handed in 67s to finish the morning session in tied second. That trio are ranked 194th, 130th and 110th respectively in Driving Distance. Kevin Kisner (139th) also added a 67 late on. Then again, there were plenty of bombers up there too with one of the biggest of all, Gary Woodland, hitting top spot after a rash of birdies. It remains to be seen whether the big hitters can separate themselves as the week goes on but for now there's a nice mix on the leaderboard.
Focus On – Rickie Fowler
“Didn't try to do anything special or get anything extra up there today. I'm definitely happy with the start, and we'll see if we can keep that rolling. Because I know the last few events we haven't exactly put together four consecutive rounds like we need to and want to,” said Fowler after his 65. “This is a different week.” Hmmm. Interesting. By trying not to force the issue and playing within himself, Fowler actually got to the top of the leaderboard anyway. Can he remember his own lesson and carry that approach through to the finish? Fowler has six wins combined on the PGA and European Tours and his opening rounds in those events were 66-69-66-67-70-66. Or if you want those to par, -6, -3, -4, -4, -2, -4. In other words, when Fowler wins, he starts well. Of course, he’s also wasted a lot of good starts although it’s slightly surprising that this is only the third occasion he’s finished day one of a major inside the top five. At the 2013 Masters he went from T4 after day one to T38 (ouch) while he had to settle for T5 at the 2017 U.S. Open despite leading after 18. But in many of his near misses in majors, Fowler may wish he’d had more shots in the bank playing the final 54 holes. This time he does and that means at least he has a little more wiggle room and extra opportunity to take a steadier approach.