Woodland storms home to lead as Tiger fights back at Bellerive
While all the focus was on the group featuring former Champion Golfers Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, it was Gary Woodland who stole the headlines on day one of the PGA Championship.
The American, who has never finished inside the top 10 at a Major, carded a six-under 64 at Bellerive Country Club in Missouri to surge into the first-round lead.
He finished one-shot ahead of Rickie Fowler, who shot the best round of the morning, while former Champion Golfer Zach Johnson is only two-back after shooting a four-under 66.
Meanwhile, reigning Champion Golfer of the Year Francesco Molinari began his quest for back-to-back Majors with a steady opening round, finishing with a two-under 68.
Woodland wows on back nine
Ranked 44th in the world, three-time PGA Tour winner Gary Woodland was not a name many would have picked out as a contender ahead of the opening round.
In his previous 27 majors, Woodland has eight missed cuts and zero top-10s, with his previous best performance a tie for 12th at The Open at Royal Troon in 2016.
But he took advantage of favourable conditions late in the day to snatch the overnight lead from compatriot Fowler, a runner-up in The 143rd Open at Royal Liverpool in 2014.
Woodland’s start was unremarkable as he began with a bogey on the first, but seven birdies over his final 11 holes saw him match his previous best round of the year and take the lead.
The 34-year-old even had an opportunity on the 18th to level the lowest round at the PGA Championship, only to see his 17-foot putt stop short of the hole.
"I hit bad shots on one and two, feeling the pressure early. But I really settled in and played great outside of that," said Woodland, who is a native of nearby Kansas.
Gary Woodland’s 64 is the lowest round in a major championship played at Bellerive, which is hosting its third men’s major. pic.twitter.com/Qk2z11J5l7— PGA Championship (@PGAChampionship) August 10, 2018
Rose and Poulter lead English charge
Having come tied second at this year’s Open Championship, Justin Rose was challenging at the top of the leaderboard once again on Thursday with a three-under 67.
It was an impressive round from the former US Open champion, who was unable to play a practice round at Bellerive due to a back problem he has been suffering with.
"I haven't actually played a practice round in terms of going out there with my golf clubs," Rose said Wednesday. "I have walked each nine and got some good visuals."
Rose was joined on the same score by fellow Englishman Ian Poulter, who is eyeing a place in next month’s European Ryder Cup team following a run of good form.
The 41-year-old was among the early starters and briefly took the lead with three birdies in his opening six holes, before two more late birdies got him back to three-under after two bogeys.
“I want to make the team, it's no secret it's important to me,” said Poulter. “I have this week and the FedEx week to try and push myself in and that's what I'm trying to do.”
Eyes on the prize! 🏆 great crowds out there today! Solid 67 to open things up....Looking forward to getting back out in the AM! pic.twitter.com/8JuzNMEhwC— Justin Rose 🎗 (@JustinRose99) August 10, 2018
Woods fights back
The grouping of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and defending PGA champion Justin Thomas drew the crowds at Bellerive, but only the latter finished under par after the first round.
Three-time Champion Golfer Woods appeared to be out of contention after bogeying his first hole, the 10th, and finding the water on his way to a double bogey on the 11th.
But following a change of shirt on the 12th tee, Wood proceeded to bounce back with four birdies and just one more bogey to finish the day on level par.
“I was able to grind out a score,’’ Woods said. “I just hung in there. I was trying to grind away at it, pick away at it, and trying to get to maybe 1-over par at the turn.”
He was matched by 2014 Champion Golfer McIlroy, following his tied second finish at Carnoustie last month, who made two birdies and two bogeys before finishing with nine straight pars.
“It wasn't that easy out there and the scores sort of reflect that,” McIlroy said. “I wish I could have taken advantage of the two par-fives. My shot of the day? I don’t think I had one.”
Players pay tribute to Lyle
Many of the players in the 156-strong field wore yellow ribbons on Thursday in tribute to Australian tour player Jarrod Lyle, who died of cancer aged 36 on Wednesday.
Lyle’s fellow Australians Adam Scott and Jason Day were among those who wore the ribbon, which is a symbol to raise awareness about cancer.
Day fought back the tears as he talked about Lyle, who played 121 PGA events between 2006 and 2016 and overcame acute myeloid leukaemia twice before announcing it returned last year.
“It's hard because you sit there and you know him and he's a buddy of yours, and he's not there anymore,” said the 2015 PGA Championship winner. “He's never going to come back.”
Fowler wore a yellow shirt and a duck pin badge on the front of his cap – a reference to the duck cover Lyle used to have on his driver – in honour of the father-of-two.
“The last few weeks we've all been thinking about Jarrod a lot,” he said. “Jarrod wouldn't want us out here feeling sorry and feeling bad, he would tell us to go out and have some fun.”