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Author: Ryan Asselta
The first major of the 2020 PGA Tour is here. Here are three thoughts from the first round of the PGA Championship.
The wait is finally over. On Thursday, after 13 months major championship golf made its return. It’s a major unlike any we have ever seen, complete with COVID-19 testing, zero fans and a snapped driver from Bryson Dechambeau.
Jason Day, the former world No. 1, finished the day atop the leaderboard with Brendon Todd at TPC Harding Park. The 2015 PGA champion was nearly perfect, putting together a bogey-free round of 65 to finish the day at 5 under par.
Todd, a 35-year old who has already won twice this season, maneuvered his way through much tougher conditions in the afternoon, reeling off seven birdies as part of his 65.
Nine golfers are within 1 stroke of the lead, including major champions Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer and Zach Johnson, as well Xander Shauffele, one of the brightest young stars on tour without a major title. Nearly three dozen golfers finished Day One under par.
Here’s three takeaways from day one at the PGA Championship:
Brooks in Perfect Position:
While the top three players in the world rankings—Justin Thomas, +1; Jon Rahm, E; Rory McIlroy, E—all started slowly, Brooks Koepka has put himself in prime position for a PGA three-peat. It’s something that hasn’t been done at the PGA since Walter Hagen won four in a row from 1924-27. Koepka reeled off six birdies on Thursday to go along with two bogeys on his way to a 4 under par 66.
Koepka’s quick start is reminiscent of the previous two PGAs he’s won. At Bellerive in 2018 Koepka opened with rounds of 69 and 63 and charged to victory. Last year it was a 63/65 start at Bethpage Black and Brooks never looked back. After Thursday’s round Koepka admitted the thought of winning three consecutive PGA’s is certainly on his mind.
“I think there’s, what, six guys that have ever won three (major championships) in a row,” said Koepka. “Not a bad list to be on. That’s the whole goal every time we tee it up in a major is to win them. The whole year is spent prepping for these four.”
Koepka’s performance in majors is staggering. Over his last six major championships, including Thursday at TPC Harding Park, Koepka is now a combined 56 under par. He simply continues to flick the switch for golf’s biggest events.
“Yeah, I enjoy it,” Koepka said. “The majors almost seem like an easier week for me.”
Tiger Looking Sharp from the Start
In just his second tournament since Feb. 23 Tiger Woods looked like he indeed was ready to make a run at major title No. 16. Teeing off at 8:33 a.m. local time on Thursday, alongside Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy, Woods put together a steady round of 68 to find himself three back of the lead at 2 under par.
The 68, complete with five birdies and three bogeys, was his lowest opening round score in a major since the 2012 Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Considering this was only his fifth competitive round since the PGA Tour’s restart, Woods was pleased following the round.
“I got the flow of the round early at Memorial, after taking five months off, and got off to a quick start there, and there’s no reason why I can’t do the same here,” Woods said. “I felt like I kept the round going most of the day, and I let a couple go here and there, but for the better part of the day, it was a very solid round.”
There’s been a ton of chatter about the new putter Woods is using this week at Harding Park. He is going with a longer version of his Scotty Cameron blade, and the putter delivered with over 70 feet of birdie putts, including a 32-foot bomb on the 13th hole.
And it wasn’t just his putter that was heating up. At 44 years old, Woods led the entire morning wave of golfers in driving distance and was fifth overall on the day—a strong indication that his surgically repaired back is feeling much better than it did back in February.
Golf’s First Fan-Less Major
Despite the low scores, Thursday had an eerie feel at the PGA. The silence at Harding Park was almost deafening, especially when you consider the raucous atmosphere Thursday at a PGA Championship traditionally generates. Tiger Woods announced on the tee? Silence. Brooks Koepka rolls in a birdie putt? All you could hear was the ball rattling at the bottom of the cup. Bottom line: It’s just strange, and the players can feel it.
“The energy is different,” Woods said. “You’re not going to have as many distractions out there. There’s really no one moving around. You don’t hear the crowd noises. It’s just different.”
Open Championship winner Shane Lowry immediately noticed a difference.
“The crowds would have been huge, and they would have been moving an awful lot and it would have been tricky,” said Lowry, who opened with a 2 under par 68. “It is different, but we’re in strange times in our lives. I’d much prefer to be here under normal circumstances with big crowds, but it still gets my attention.”
A major without fans. It’s new and something golfers will need to get used to. Next month’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot will be played without fans, and according to a report from WRDW in Augusta, the Masters will likely be played without patrons in November.
Two Thing to Keep an Eye on in Round 2:
1) There’s a ton of firepower within two strokes of the lead in search of their first major title. Look for either Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau or Daniel Berger to make a run on Friday.
2) Can Jordan Spieth right the ship? In search of completing the career grand slam, Spieth opened with a 3 over par 73 and is in serious danger of missing the cut. Three hours after his round, Spieth was still on the driving range trying to work things out.
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Author: Ryan Asselta