ST. LOUIS – Gary Woodland is the surprise leader after the first round of the PGA Championship in St. Louis. A 34-year-old Kansas native who has never finished in the top 10 of a major tournament, Woodland shot a 6-under-par 64 at Bellerive Country Club on Thursday to hold a one-shot edge over Rickie Fowler.
Zach Johnson and South Africa’s Brandon Stone share third place at 4 under, and 11 players sit tied for fifth at 3 under.
The fifth-place contingent includes World No. 1 Dustin Johnson and three other past major winners: Jason Day of Australia, Justin Rose of England and Stewart Cink. Dustin Johnson made six birdies in an eight-hole span.
Woodland bogeyed the opening hole and parred the next six holes before he got rolling. He birdied the last two holes of the front nine, then added five birdies in a seven-hole span during a bogey-free run on the back nine.
Fowler was the clubhouse leader for much of the afternoon before Woodland passed him.
A University of Kansas alumnus, Woodland heard some good-natured barbs from the Missouri crowd.
“We’re kind of in enemy territory down here in Missouri,” he said. “But the fans were nice to me today as well and I really fed off the energy that was out there surrounding the group, which was pretty cool.”
Woodland owns three career PGA Tour titles, including the Waste Management Phoenix Open this year. His best major results were ties for 12th at the PGA Championship in 2011 and the Open Championship in 2016.
He said his game is in good order now.
“The putting was the last thing, because I’ve being hitting the ball very well,” Woodland said. “Now when I get out of position, I have the short game to give myself a chance, and to see putts go in was very, very cool.”
Fowler said of the state of Bellerive, “I think that one of the things I did a good job of and what maybe helping this week and what we’ll stick to is not trying to overpower it or not try and get that extra, just get the ball in the fairway. …
“I’ve always been a good mid iron and long iron player, so you get me in the fairway and with the soft greens, I feel like we can pick apart the golf course … as long as we continue to play smart and within ourselves. So now it’s all can you do is get off to a good start Thursday, and we did that.”
Day said of Bellerive, “There’s nothing really tricky about this golf course. It just can be brutally long. How do I explain it? There can be two different people can walk off in the same group thinking it’s the hardest golf course in the world only because you may be on the wrong side of hitting it in the rough here or there because the rough is pretty thick, and a guy that’s flushed it all day long thinking it’s a really relatively easy golf course.”
The reigning Open Championship winner, Francesco Molinari of Italy, shot 2 under to tie for 16th.
Defending champion Justin Thomas was 3 under at the turn after playing the back nine first, but bogeys at Nos. 4 and 9 left him at 1 under and tied for 33rd. Thomas won the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational last week in Akron, Ohio.
Tiger Woods and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy both shot even par and are in a group tied for 48th.
Woods got off to an ugly bogey-double bogey start, but he had four birdies and just one bogey the rest of the way.
“You know, just grind my way around this place and stay as patient as possible,” Woods told TNT.
Jordan Spieth opened with a double bogey and wound up at 1 over par, tied for 62nd.
The opening round featured no eagles, a PGA Championship rarity that hadn’t occurred since the third round in 2004 at Whistling Straits.
–Field Level Media