Does the air seem fresher, the water clearer, the birds cheerier? That’s major championship season for you. The PGA Championship got off to a rousing start on Thursday, and there are storylines aplenty.
Just as everyone predicted, the man with the bad back and the guy who ranked outside the top 700 in the Official World Golf Ranking last year are tied for the 18-hole lead at the PGA Championship. Jason Day and Brendon Todd shot 65s—Day in the chilly but soft conditions of the morning and Todd in warmer but windier conditions of the afternoon. PGA Championship Leaderboard
Both players have shown recent form, but Day’s laundry list of injuries and Todd’s final-round collapse in Memphis last week made them underdogs heading into this week. Day is hunting his second career major/PGA Championship, and Todd is looking to become one of the great mid-career rags-to-riches heroes in recent golf history.
Would you look who it is
More than 30 players are within two shots of Day and Todd right now, but two stick out from the crowd. Zach Johnson and Martin Kaymer—both two-time major winners, both well past their glory days—fired 66s on Thursday and sit T-3 as we head into Friday.
The German is currently No. 128 in the OWGR, and Zatch is outside the top 200. Evidently Kaymer pumped himself up this week by watching a video of his 2014 U.S. Open victory at Pinehurst—the last time he won an official pro event. Similarly, Johnson hasn’t won since his 2015 Open Championship triumph at St. Andrews. Can either player muster his old magic in the final three rounds at TPC Harding Park?
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Keeping up with Koepka
Brooks Koepka feasts on majors, and yesterday was no different. The four-time major winner fought back from an early bogey and gutted out a 66 at Harding Park. He’s T-3 through 18 holes, one back of the lead. On his way off the course, he tossed a not-so-subtle jab at Bryson DeChambeau. All in all, Brooksy appears to be in fine fettle.
Do you frequently roll into our Twitter mentions to express a longing for tournament courses that “place a premium on hitting fairways”? Are you a certain well-coiffed Golf Channel analyst? Well, you got your wish on Thursday. Harding Park’s rough was lush and exacted immediate penalties for missed fairways. Those who did well either hit a lot of fairways or made a ton of putts. We’ll see if that trend continues through the weekend.
Five-dollar cup of coffee
As the action at Harding Park got underway, there was some bellyaching on social media about morning coverage being available exclusively on the streaming platform ESPN+. Understandable. But those who shelled out five bucks for a month’s subscription saw a strong webcast. Lots of golf shots, some cool drone views over Lake Merced, and Scott Van Pelt good-humoredly steering the ship as the fog lifted. When the CBS crew took the reins in the afternoon, the dip in quality was noticeable. Small sample size, but networks that cover golf occasionally (ESPN, Fox) seem to approach the task with far more energy than the ones that cover it regularly (CBS, NBC).
PGA Championship odds and ends
Here’s something we never thought would happen: Tiger Woods gets introduced before his first shot at a major championship, and he’s greeted by… bird sounds. 2020, man. Anyway, Woods opened with a 68 (-2) and is three back of Day and Todd.
Xander Schauffele (66) finds himself in the mix at a major championship once again. But while X has five top-six finishes in just 11 appearances in majors, he has yet to crack the top 30 at the PGA Championship.
Bryson DeChambeau got off to a hot start on Thursday but settled for a 68. Much to the delight of Golf Twitter, the big man accidentally snapped his driver shaft while leaning on it to pick up his tee. He was able to replace it during the round.
DeChambeau’s playing partner Adam Scott wasn’t as blown away by Bryson’s length as he thought he’d be. “Not to like put him down any, but I thought it was going to be longer,” Scott said. “There’s been so much buildup…. I thought I was going to see like almost one of those long-drive guys.”
Sixty-year-old PGA club professional Jeff Hart opened with 77. According to Hart, he hit driver off the deck about half a dozen times into par 4s at Harding Park.
Many big names played well on Thursday, but plenty of others did not. Microphone-abusing Jon Rahm (70), Justin Thomas (71), Rory McIlroy (70), Patrick Cantlay (73), Rickie Fowler (73), Jordan Spieth (73), and Phil Mickelson (72) all struggled on Thursday. All are still within eight shots of the lead, though, and there are 54 holes to play, so we’ll see.
PGA Tour dot com’s Sean Martin was ready for TPC (see, we even included the TPC this time!) Harding Park’s big moment. His articles on the course’s history and its role as the annual host of the San Francisco City Championship are excellent.
Also excellent: Brendan Quinn’s piece for The Athletic about Ken Venturi, the late king of Harding Park (paywall).
Morning fog figures to play a big role in San Francisco this week. Check out Alan Shipnuck’s primer on NorCal’s favorite small-talk topic.
We’re through one round of match play at the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Woodmont Country Club in Maryland. Stroke-play medalist Rachel Heck, an incoming Stanford freshman, advanced to today’s Round of 32, as did defending champion Gabi Ruffels. Scoring
A six-pack of players lead the English Championship on the European Tour, including up-and-coming stars Min Woo Lee and Thomas Detry. Leaderboard
Lydia Ko and last week’s Drive On Championship winner Danielle Kang share the first-round lead at the Marathon LPGA Classic. Leaderboard
Nearly two dozen are within three shots of the lead at the WinCo Foods Portland Open on the Korn Ferry Tour. Leaderboard
The mayor of Augusta, Georgia, has acknowledged that the 2020 Masters Tournament will “likely,” “probably” be held without fans.
The PGA Tour laid off around 50 staffers this week, citing efficiency and the pandemic as reasons. Relatedly, purse sizes on tour have not been reduced.
The Latest from The Fried Egg
Shotgun Start: Legend of Jeff Hart, Zatch Watch, Todd Watch, and figuring out how shafts work
This Friday episode reacts to a full day of the first major championship in more than a year. A favorite son of the SGS, Brendon Todd is yet again on top of the leaderboard and there is condemnation for those who lost the faith because of a potential “bombers’ paradise.” Andy uses this to offer some pointed thoughts on the setup and rough and what, if anything, we can take away from a mixed leaderboard after 18 holes. Then there’s a segment honoring Jeff Hart, the 60-year-old club pro who putted with his glove on and hit some eye-poppingly short drives. Brooksy’s back again and continues to speedbag Bryson, who had some shaft problems. They debate whether Bryson should have been able to put a new driver in play. There’s a cross-sport comp that anoints Zatch Johnson the St. Louis Cardinals of golf. There is ample time spent on the Spieth Problem, which Andy claims is just a mental issue at this point. Brendan asks how many players under 40, even with the current grim situation, would not take Spieth’s résumé and career right now? Rory’s struggles are also put into perspective but Tiger’s approach is praised in the context of Andy’s earlier course analysis. Also, did the PGA screw Jon Rahm with his grouping? They close with some words of praise on ESPN voices rejoining golf coverage and a whiparound discussion on the Pirate going low in England and the U.S. Women’s Amateur bracket shaping up for a blockbuster weekend. Listen on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify.