I can be admittedly tough on the PGA, the major that “tries harder”. Unlike the US and British Opens, and of course the Masters, the PGA sometimes seems to be begging for attention and that’s unfortunate because all they need to do is put that great Wanamaker Trophy out there for all to see (http://blog.ggog.com/?p=4991).
Thursday at Oak Hill though, a magnificent venue, dawned with a high degree of “majorness” starting with Tiger Woods getting it to -2 on his first nine. As Woods climbed the leaderboard the excitement was building near Rochester and the PGA looked and felt the part of its counterparts in golf’s Grand Slam.
The major feeling continued on the back 9 even with Woods giving a few back, because surely that could only be attributed to the challenge that Oak Hill was presenting. After all, aren’t major championships supposed to be a struggle, with any red number a good number? Though the great Tiger collapsed on the 9th (his last hole of the day) to finish with double-bogey and a one-over 71, at the time that just felt like something you often see in majors and surely he was still right in the middle of things.
But soon the realization came in that it was really just Fat Thursday for Mr. Woods, meaning his poor back nine was a result of some really bad swings and not because of typical major conditions. He hit it so fat on 7 that he had farther into the green for his second shot than the distance he had hit his tee shot. His second shot into 9 was also fat and that particular swing looked about 1/3 Arnie, 1/3 Seve, and 1/3 local club hacker. A couple of groups behind, Jim Furyk quietly posted 65 (-5) almost completely away from the cameras, and as the afternoon wave started throwing dart after dart, soon it was understood that these were Mardi Gras scoring conditions more along the lines of the regular tour, belying all of the pre-tournament buildup about how difficult the course and the rough, however thick, would play.
Woods finished in roughly 50th place, not quite “right there” as he said after his round but obviously he can’t be counted out. But even if he were out of it, this PGA has quite a leaderboard after round 1 and with a little drying out of the course we could yet have a very major event here. Lee Westwood shot a 4-under 66 and what a great story it would be if this were the week that he gets it done. Muirfield seemed like his opportunity and though he had to have been disappointed, as we said here (http://blog.ggog.com/?p=3881) it’s unlikely he would have taken the loss too hard when he simply lost to an epic Mickelson round. Adam Scott sure looks the part of a two-time major champion and a win at Oak Hill would elevate this PGA Championship as much as it would his own standing. He seemed tired on 18 after a long day but gutted out a clutch par to tie Furyk in the clubhouse at -5. Fellow Aussie Jason Day has yet again entered a major championship a bit under the radar but he’s been close recently and he’s well in it at -3.
Even the Most Interesting Man in Golf, Miguel-Angel Jimenez, is again in the mix after a very interesting round with lots of birdies along with a couple of doubles. Playing in his last pre-Senior Tour major, he finished with 68 to put himself in contention one more time. Phil Mickelson looked like he was going to scrape together some red figures after a wild round and a rain-delay rest (just like round 1 at Merion) that seemed to get his energy going. But he wasted a lot of good work after the thunder with a Winged Foot-esque performance on 18. As many might say though, that’s just Phil being Phil and when you think about it he’s really The Most Interesting Man in Golf (I don’t think the Dos Equis guy would trade faces with him however). Mickelson finished at +1 tied with Woods and he doesn’t look like someone who will contend in the end. I think Phil is saying “I have my Wanamaker and I don’t really need another, how many months until Augusta and Pinehurst?” After all, he didn’t even register for the event. I doubt he would make that mistake at the Masters or US Open.
Proving the old horses-for-courses theory were Matt Kuchar at -3 and Sergio Garcia at -1. Those two staged a memorable match in the 1998 US Amateur at Oak Hill when Kuchar was defending champion. Garcia won and I remember vividly a bit of gamesmanship from him. During the match, both players had 10-footers for par. Garcia had the tougher putt and as Kuchar got ready to hit his, Sergio called out “Good-Good”? Kuchar, caught off guard, said “Yeah, OK” and got that old schoolboy grin of his going while the crowd egged it all on, cheering as the two players accepted a half on the hole. I always thought that move by Garcia threw Kuchar off his game for the remainder of the match.
Rory McIlroy started out looking very much the young fireball he was at Congressional and Kiawah but even after flaming out somewhat after a hot start, he still finished with 69. And worth a mention is Tom Watson, given a special exemption by the PGA for one last attempt at the career grand slam, however remote his chances might be. Old Tom shot a solid 73 which included just one birdie, meaning he made a lot fewer bogeys than many of the big names out there.
The leaders though again are Jim Furyk and Adam Scott and both are familiar names on major championship leaderboards. But perhaps we should be more surprised that Furyk is up there. Here were his previous 6 scores in major championships: 74, 76, 79, 77, 78, 74. Not inspiring and he has a long way to go before he can really think about winning. Scott on the other hand has at least a finger on the trophy already, there’s nobody striking it better and he conquered much tougher greens at Augusta earlier this year.