Casual golf fans might not recognize the two golfers atop of the 99th PGA Championship leaderboard. Thorbjorn Olseen and Kevin Kisner share the lead at 4 under. They are good players, but they are not superstars, and to the fan who tunes in to only four tournaments a year, they are not recognizable faces. However, despite their co-lead, there are some monster names sitting one, two, three and even five strokes back.
The PGA Championship is the major that most often produces random, bizarre leaderboards after the first 18 holes. Let’s take a look back at a few recent ones.
The top is the 2007 PGA Championship. Some guy named Tiger Woods went on to win. The second one is the 2014 PGA Championship. Some guy named Rory McIlroy went on to win.
So yeah, there’s a long way to go. And somebody from the names that are within striking distance should probably make a move on Friday to solidify himself as the favorite. Here are the players that trail Olesen and Kisner.
- Brooks Koepka: 3 under
- Rickie Fowler: 2 under
- Jason Day: 1 under
- Dustin Johnson: 1 under
- Hideki Matsuyama: 1 under
- Jon Rahm: 1 under
- Adam Scott: E
- Jordan Spieth: 1 over
- Rory McIlroy: 1 over
I feel confident in saying one of those guys is going to play lights out on Friday, post a score and prepare for a (really) late afternoon tee time on Saturday. Consider McIlroy’s history at this course: In his two wins and playoff loss, he has not been closer than five strokes back of the lead after the first round. That’s exactly where he sits right now.
“It’s a tough golf course,” said McIlroy, who holds the course record at Quail Hollow. “I shoot something in the 60s tomorrow, move right up there. So yeah, I’m in it.”
For his playing partner Fowler it’s about doing more of what he did on Thursday (just without the triple bogey he made on the front nine).
“I feel like we did a good job of that on the putting surfaces today,” said Fowler, who leads the PGA Tour in putting so far this season. “The big thing for me is continuing to drive it, as good as I did today, if not better. That can be tightened up a little bit. If we do that, it will be a good week.”
With all the hype around McIlroy and Spieth, world No. 1 Dustin Johnson was a bit of an afterthought coming into the week. He played quite well on Thursday, however, and often rides the hottest heaters anyone has ever seen.
“I hadn’t been swinging that good,” said Johnson, who was undone at The Open Championship and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational by one bad round in each event. “I definitely hadn’t had a lot of confidence in the driver. This week, I worked hard on it and I got a lot of confidence in the driver. I feel like I’m swinging it really well. Got control over it finally. The ball is kind of starting where I want it to. It’s got the right shape.”
That’s a scary proposition for the field. D.J. is starting to feel himself on a bomber’s course. Two back of Johnson and joining McIlroy at 1 over is Spieth, who (you may have heard) is vying for the career Grand Slam this week.
“Historically, I’m pretty solid with the lead,” said Spieth after Round 1. “So that was kind of the goal was to grab the lead. It’s much easier when you are on the front page of the leaderboard than it is coming from behind. Given it’s the first round, I know I’m still in it, but I know that tomorrow’s round becomes that much more important to work my way and stay in it. I’ve got to make up ground. If I’m five back at the start of the day, I’ve got to be less than five back after Friday to really feel like I can play the way this golf course needs to be played and still be able to win.”
That’s the goal for everybody on this list as the field tees it up for a maybe unexpectedly tough course in Round 2. Go deep on Friday and cruise home on the weekend. Easy to talk about, tough to execute. Golf is fun when stars are trying to run down the everyman. That means the rest of this week should be a blast.