Thursday’s opening round action at the PGA Championship had a few head scratching performances led by the proverbial favorite Dustin Johnson. DJ’s trusty driver betrayed him, costing him a shot at his 2nd major championship in 2016 after an opening round 77. It was only good for a t143rd place in the 156 player field. On the other end of the spectrum, Jimmy Walker got off to a hot start, shooting a 5 under par 65, to lead the tournament despite his poor recent form, missing 4 cuts in his last 8 events. However, the biggest surprise had to come from retired PGA Tour player and former PGA Championship winner Rich Beem. Beem typically works the booth at PGA Tour events for British based Sky Sports. Beem hasn’t made a professional cut since the 2013 Panama Claro Championship on the Web.com Tour, but found magic Thursday, shooting a 1-under 69, good for a tie for 21st. Golf is a funny game.
Trailing the leader Walker, you will find PGA tour rookie Emiliano Grillo, England’s Ross Fisher and 2-time major champion Martin Kaymer, who all fired 4-under par 66’s. Kaymer’s was particularly impressive, playing in the afternoon draw when the wind kicked up, and Baltusrol’s greens firmed up with the immense heat.
The Good, The So So & The Ugly
Let’s take a look at how some of the big names fared during Thursday’s opening round action.
Good: Jason Day
Day headed out Thursday morning and put on a clinic from tee-to-green, hitting 17 of 18 greens en route to a 2-under par 68. Baltusrol’s demanding tee shots and beefy par 4’s play right into Day’s wheelhouse. If he can continue to strike it like Thursday and drop a few putts over the weekend, we could see a repeat champion.
Good: Henrik Stenson
The recently crowned Champion Golfer of the Year continued the hot play we saw at Troon, shooting 3-under par 67 during Thursday’s tough afternoon conditions. Stenson’s iron play is at another level. The big Swede routinely hits approach shots close, despite breezy conditions and firm greens. Had a few more putts fallen, Stenson would have been atop the leaderboard again.
Good: Rickie Fowler
2016 was supposed to be the year that Rickie Fowler broke through and joined the game’s elite players by winning his first major championship. Instead, we have seen others join the club and Rickie struggle, missing the cut in both the Masters and the U.S. Open and limping to a t46th at the Open Championship. On Thursday, Fowler was sharp during his morning round, flashing the major championship game we saw from him in 2014, en route to a 2-under 68. Fowler’s game appears to be locked in and should be a factor over the weekend.
So So: Phil Mickelson
The winner last time Baltusrol hosted the PGA struggled early in Thursday’s round, finding himself 4-over par through 11 holes. After a birdie on his 12th hole, Phil found his game and birdied 2 more holes on his way in to finish a respectable 1-over par and still within striking distance. Phil wasn’t sharp on Thursday, making me think it will be unlikely to see him threaten over the weekend.
So So: Jordan Spieth
Since his collapse at Augusta, it’s been tough sledding for Spieth in major championships. He’s struggled to t37th and t30th finishes at the U.S. Open and Open Championship. On Thursday, it looked as though Spieth was headed for another rough start, but the young star was able to do what he does best, score. While it wasn’t pretty, Spieth birdied 17 and 18 to shoot an even par 70 and salvage his championship hopes.
Ugly: Dustin Johnson
It was a brutal opening round for Dustin Johnson who came in having finished in the top 10 in his past 5 starts with 2 wins. One can’t help but believe Johnson could be suffering from fatigue. His busy recent schedule saw him log a lot of miles. He played in both the Open Championship and last week’s Canadian Open, something very few of the world’s top players do. Johnson was absolutely miserable off the tee on Thursday, ranking 146th in the field in strokes gained. Off the tee, he’s a far cry from his season rank of 2nd on tour.
Ugly: Rory McIlroy
Don’t ever let someone tell you that putting doesn’t matter anymore. Rory McIlroy drove the ball beautifully on Thursday, ranking 3rd in the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green on Thursday, the problem? McIlroy was atrocious on the greens, taking 35 putts and not holing a putt outside of 7 feet. His struggles with the flat stick lead to a disappointing opening round 74. McIlroy will need a stellar round on Friday to get back inside the cut line and avoid his 2nd missed cut at a major championship in 2016.
What to watch for Friday
Baltusrol was forecasted to see heavy rain upwards of 2” overnight. This should soften the course and yield low scores, making this year’s PGA Championship a shootout. Anyone sitting at +1 or better should feel good about their chances heading into the weekend.
Template Holes: The Cape
We continue our journey through Macdonald’s template holes with his par 4 design, the cape hole. Unlike most of his template holes which are replicas of great Scottish holes, the cape hole is original to C.B. Macdonald who first employed the design at National Golf Links of America. The cape hole has become one of the most popular risk/reward designs that architects use for par 4s. Learn more about the cape hole and see some of its most famous examples here.
Quite the performance
Steven Jaeger, a 28-year-old German player on the Web.com Tour, is hardly a household name. The pro entered this week’s Ellie Mae Classic needing a good performance to move into the top 75 and ensure himself a place to play next year. He’s off to quite the start, shooting an opening round 58 at the par 70 TPC Stonebrae setup. Jaeger’s bogey-free 58 has him out in front of the trio of Josh Teater, Xander Schauffele and Rhein Gibson by 4 shots and in a great position for a high finish.
Across the pond
The ladies are at Woburn Golf Club for the Ricoh British Open, their 4th major championship of the season. In record setting fashion, Mirim Lee scorched Woburn to an opening round 10-under par 62, 3 shots better than her closest challenger, Ariya Jutanugarn. With her 62, Lee set both the Women’s British Open record for lowest opening round, and Woburn’s course record. While Lee was on fire, world number 1 Lydia Ko struggled, shooting a 2-over par 72, and 12 shots behind Lee. World number 2, Brooke Henderson sits 9 shots back after a 1-under 71.
Midwest Cup gears up
The best mid-am's from Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas and Minnesota are in St. Joseph, Missouri for the 2016 Midwest Cup, an annual team event. Last year, Team Missouri took home the title, led by individual medalist Brad Nurski and defend their title at their home site, St. Joseph C.C. Track live scoring all weekend here.
John Senden’s birdie putt drops...eventually
Bubba goes deep...really deep.
Legend of Beef continues, from under the scoreboard.
Patton Kizzire’s putter just wasn’t working.