Jason Day and Brendon Todd both shot 5-under 65s to lead after the first round of the 102nd PGA Championship at Harding Park. Brooks Koepka, going for a 3rd straight PGA title, is just one back at -4. Tiger Woods shot a 68 and sits three back while world No. 1 Justin Thomas shot a one-over 71.
Here are five major takeaways from the first day of action at Harding Park.
Jason Day is Grinding His Way “Back”
Once upon a time, Jason Day was on top of the world. He dominated Whistling Straits in 2015, becoming the first player ever to win a major championship shooting 20-under par and then won the Players Championship the following year. He rose to No. 1 in the world and seemed to be destined to win several majors over the coming years.
But then Day started to go through some back trouble which has gotten increasingly worse over the last couple years. He’s had to withdraw from tournaments and found himself missing more cuts over a two-year span than he had over his whole career.
Day’s back has steadily gotten better but it’s obviously still hurting. Watching him pick up the ball in a curtsy-like style is troublesome to watch sometimes. He still grimaces when he picks up the ball and limps his way around the course. But he’s learned to deal with the pain and play with it, much like Tiger does a lot of the time. Whatever he is doing, it’s working. Day is a fighter and is putting everything in to make his way back to top form.
Tiger Woods Can Win This
The opening round has been Tiger Woods’ biggest detriment in contending for a major championship since his back problems really surfaced in 2014. He’s shot his way out of more majors than in them through 18 holes.
Well, after one day at Harding Park, Tiger can walk away knowing this: He’s in it.
The last time Tiger shot a two-under first round, he left the Butler Cabin with a green jacket. More importantly, he showed flashes of greatness. His putter was on, his ball striking was solid, and best yet, his back looked just fine in the cool weather.
Whether he can keep this up for three days, who knows. Cool weather will stick around and conditions won’t get any easier. More wind will be waiting for him on day two. If there’s one area he needs to improve upon the most, it’s finding more fairways. He grinded a lot in his 68. If he finds more fairways, he can challenge for his fifth Wanamaker Trophy.
A perfect Day One
You couldn’t have written a better script for the first round of the PGA Championship. You have major champions all over the first few pages of the leaderboard–Jason Day, Brooks Koepka, Zach Johnson, Martin Kaymer, Gary Woodland, Tiger Woods, Justin Rose, Adam Scott, Shane Lowry, and Patrick Reed. You have some of the best players in the world searching for their first major in contention–Xander Schauffele, Bryson DeChambeau, Tony Finau, and Kevin Kisner. Then you have some great underdog stories such as four-time winner Brendon Todd, Bud Cauley, and Scottie Scheffler.
You also got Harding Park at its best, displaying all three seasons that the San Fransisco area traditionally sees (you never get summer there). You got fog, mist, and cold followed by sunshine and heavy winds. It was a perfect day one.
Koepka’s Still the Man To Beat
To be the champ, you need to beat the champ…well, in this case, two-time defending champ. After one day, is there anyone you would bet against more than Koepka.
The champ looked as strong as ever. After a poor start where he parred the easy par-5 opening hole (the 10th for him) and then followed it up with a bogey, he turned it on, birdieing four of the next six holes. Koepka’s brimming with more confidence than anyone out there and he has a chip on his shoulder after a journalist earlier in the week questioned whether he’s lost his form.
Koepka’s response: “I’m the defending champ, aren’t I?”
Yes he is, and he’s playing like it.
Length? What Length?
Some said you need to be able to hit it long to be able to navigate your way properly around Harding Park. The cold, heavy air would make it tough on guys like Zach Johnson who is one of the shorter hitters on Tour. The short hitters, however, played just fine. Brendon Todd, Zach Johnson, Bud Cauley, Kevin Kisner, and Kevin Streelman aren’t known for their length, but they found their way on the first few pages of the leaderboard after Thursday with Todd tied for the lead.
What’s we’re finding out is it’s important to find fairways at Harding Park than being long. Todd is one of the most accurate players out there, and players like Kisner are also known for their tee to green game. Find the short grass and you can score. If you keep it hitting it in the rough, you’re going to be spending most of the day hacking it out and making bogey.
Just ask Jordan Spieth.