US PGA: Gary Woodland leads the way with Rickie Fowler in pursuit
Americans both made hot starts in sweltering St Louis with a host of big name behind
Gary Woodland putts on the sixth green during the first round of the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St Louis, Missouri. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
Someone, just not who we expected, stared down his approach shots and twirled his club in anticipation. That man was Gary Woodland, playing in his 27th career Major but yet to even claim a top-10, who overtook Rickie Fowler atop the leaderboard in the first round of the 100th US PGA Championship at Bellerive Country in the western suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri.
The 34-year-old 6-feet 4-inch American – who possesses a short back-swing but is capable of generating tremendous power – actually used his putter as the weapon of choice in posting a six-under-par 64 that enabled him to edge a shot clear of long-time leader Fowler with South African Brandon Stone a shot further adrift.
So what was the secret for Woodland? Perhaps searching out putting guru Phil Kenyon on the Saturday of the British Open at Carnoustie when in despair with the short stick in his hands. Fast forward to the PGA, and Woodland – a three-time winner on the PGA Tour, most recently at the Phoenix Open earlier this season – had his best ever round with the putter amounting to a total of 153 feet five inches holed putts.
If there was a fear that the soft greens would cause problems as the day progressed, they generally proved unfounded, as Stone explained. “I didn’t have a lot of lines that had a lot of spikes in them at all. I found some really pure patches of green, and I just saw the lines great,” said the South African, who used his putter just 26 times in his round of 66 which gave him a share of third place with Zach Johnson.
And, in general, there were examples of players fighting the good fight. Take Jordan Spieth. Seeking to complete the career Grand Slam, Spieth started with a double-bogey on his very first hole. What did he do? He rolled up his sleeves and he grinded, his round of 71 only blighted by a dropped shot on the 17th.
Francesco Molinari, if anything, was even more impressive. The most recent of all Major champions, the Italian was three-over through six holes of his opening round but would sign for a 68, two-under. And Tiger Woods, too, showed his spirit: three-over after two holes, he would sign for a 70, the same mark as Rory McIlroy.
While Justin Rose, who’d been unable to even manage a practice round due to a back injury, somehow found a way to conjure up a 67 that left him in a group of 10 players in tied-fifth. Among them were world number one Dustin Johnson, who stumbled late-on with two bogeys. “I had a bit of a blank canvas to play with, and I felt comfortable on the course,” explained Rose of turning his complete lack of practice into a positive.
But it was Woodland – whose best ever finish in any Major was tied-12th at the 2011 US PGA – who manoeuvred to the top, the only man to leapfrog Fowler who had held the leading role for so long.
“I’ve set my schedule the last couple years to gear up for the Majors. But definitely in the Majors it’s frustrating. I don’t even have a top-10, which is frustrating because I feel like where I am and where I should be is not results that I have had.”
The difference was getting to work with Kenyon. It came about after a frustrating time on the greens at Carnoustie where he had 34 putts in the second round and 35 in the third. Kenyon talked briefly with him in Scotland and then again at Akron last week, but it was only last Tuesday that the real work was done. “He showed me on video what he thought I was doing wrong. It was a significant change, but I literally put a new SuperStroke grip on (the putter) and it fixed everything!”
Completed first round scores from the 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive CC, St Louis, Missouri (par 70, US unless stated, Irish in bold)
64 Gary Woodland
65 Rickie Fowler
66 Zach Johnson, Brandon Stone (Rsa)
68 Francesco Molinari (Ita), Jason Kokrak, Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Kyle Stanley, Ross Fisher (Eng), Branden Grace (Rsa), Ryan Fox (Nzl), Patrick Cantlay, Mikko Korhonen (Fin), Webb Simpson, Joaquin Niemann (Chi), Jon Rahm (Spa), Yuta Ikeda (Jpn), Marc Leishman (Aus), Billy Horschel, Chris Kirk, Andrew Putnam
69 Kevin Chappell, Emiliano Grillo (Arg), Brooks Koepka, Keegan Bradley, Shubhankar Sharma (Ind), Justin Thomas, Julian Suri, Jim Furyk, Tommy Fleetwood (Eng), Shane Lowry (Irl), Jimmy Walker, Ryan Armour, J.J. Spaun, Ryan Moore, Chris Stroud
70 Chris Wood (Eng), Tiger Woods, Charl Schwartzel (Rsa), Adam Scott (Aus), Xander Schauffele, Byeong-Hun An (Kor), Bubba Watson, Kevin Na, Rory McIlroy (NIrl), Thorbjorn Olesen (Den), Sergio Garcia (Spa), Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spa), Jhonattan Vegas (Ven), Anirban Lahiri (Ind)
71 Satoshi Kodaira (Jpn), Matt Wallace (Eng), Kelly Kraft, Martin Kaymer (Ger), Adam Hadwin (Can), Chez Reavie, Jamie Lovemark, Vijay Singh (Fij), Bryson DeChambeau, Brice Garnett, Jordan Spieth, Luke List, Alex Noren (Swe), Matt Kuchar, Haotong Li (Chn), Tyrrell Hatton (Eng), Russell Knox (Sco), Troy Merritt, Sungjae Imn (Kor), Pádraig Harrington (Irl), Ben Kern
72 Charley Hoffman, Scott Brown, Alexander Bjork (Swe), Si Woo Kim (Kor), Bill Haas, Shugo Imahira (Jpn), Eddie Pepperell (Eng), Craig Hocknull (Aus), Patrick Reed, Jason Dufner, Brian Harman, Kevin Streelman, Patton Kizzire, Brandt Snedeker, Daniel Balin, Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng), Justin Harding (Rsa)
73 Danny Willett (Eng), Shaun Micheel, John Daly, Daniel Berger, Peter Uihlein, Paul Dunne (Irl), Yong-eun Yang (Kor), Adrian Otaegui (Spa), Henrik Stenson (Swe), Ryan Vermeer, Beau Hossler, Phil Mickelson, Brendan Steele, J.B. Holmes, James Hahn, Michael Kim, Dylan Frittelli (Rsa), Mike Lorenzo-Vera (Fra), Andrew Landry, Ryuko Tokimatsu (Jpn)
74 Sean McCarty, Rich Berberian Jr., Scott Piercy, Jason Schmuhl, Paul Broadhurst (Eng), Charles Howell III, Tony Finau, Seung-su Han, Cameron Smith (Aus), Ted Potter, Jr., Russell Henley, Rich Beem, Jordan Smith (Eng), Matthew Borchert
75 Nick Watney, Whee Kim (Kor), Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha), Andy Sullivan (Eng), Davis Love III, Paul Casey (Eng), Craig Bowden, Chesson Hadley, Michael Block, Omar Uresti
76 Marty Jertson, Jaysen Hansen, Zachary J Johnson, Aaron Wise, Matt Dobyns, Yusaku Miyazato (Jpn), Alexander Levy (Fra)
77 Shawn Warren
78 Jorge Campillo (Spa), Johan Kok (Rsa)
79 Brian Smock
80 Bob Sowards
81 David Muttitt