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It’s been more than a year since the last golf major, but the unusually long drought ended on Thursday when the world’s top players teed it up at San Francisco’s TPC Harding Park for the PGA Championship.
The coronavirus pandemic caused the Masters and U.S. Open to be postponed and the British Open was canceled, which pushed this week’s event as the leadoff major of 2020.
Here were the highlights of Day 1.
Welcome back, Jason Day
Jason Day is certainly a known commodity for golf fans. He’s a former PGA Championship winner and in 2016 he reached No. 1 in the world.
It’s just been a while since we’ve heard from him. He hasn’t seriously contended in a major since that year and he’s fallen all the way to 42nd in the world rankings as he’s battled back issues in recent years.
But there he was atop the leaderboard on Thursday with a bogey-free 5-under 65. Only Brendon Todd matched that mark on the day to join him in the No. 1 spot.
There’s something about this particular major that suits Day’s game. It’s only one he’s won and he’s historically played very well.
Could the 32-year-old Australian add another Wanamaker Trophy to his collection this week?
Is it a major with no fans?
Players always talk about how you can tell it’s a major because of the added intensity of the galleries.
This year is different with no fans allowed because of COVID-19.
“I actually miss playing in front of fans because you obviously work off that, especially in a major championship,” Day said. “You work off that energy. Usually it's buzzing, and it happens from Monday all the way through to Sunday.”
Instead, players have to create the intensity themselves. That’s not a problem for Brooks Koepka.
“It's pretty obvious it's a major,” Koepka said when asked about the lack of fans earlier this week. “It's a big boy golf course. Tough place. Tough setup. I mean, I know it, so that's all that matters.”
Players praised the conditions of the greens earlier in the week, and now we understand why. Putts were dropping everywhere on the course.
It wasn’t just one or two players. It seemed like everyone was knocking down long putts from 30-plus feet
Tommy Fleetwood rolled in a birdie from 57 feet out on the 17th, Martin Kaymer dropped in a 47-foot eagle on the 4th and even Tiger Woods joined the party with a 33-foot birdie at 13th.
Keep in mind, Harding Park is a municipal course, so these greens are likely flatter than pros are used to playing. Combine what with slightly damp conditions and they aren’t particularly fast.
All that combines for some pretty inviting conditions for these players.
Bryson goes big
Bryson DeChambeau has been the talk of the tour lately because of his added bulk and insane distance off the tee.
He added to the legend on Thursday when he snapped the shaft clean off his driver on the 7th tee.
Fortunately, he was allowed to replace the shaft by rule and, in an odd twist, that actually improved his distance. He was averaging 320 yards with the old one and pumped that up to 339 with the replacement.
“I’ve used that shaft for over a year now, that same exact shaft,” he told ESPN afterward. “I’ve hit all my drives with it and never ever had an issue. It’s material. It’s eventually gonna go.”
Between his epic drives and frequent arguments with officials, he always seems to have a memorable moment. The one thing he doesn’t have yet is a major title. At 2-under and tied for 20th place, he’s got some work to do.
Spieth still fighting the slump
Jordan Spieth just can’t seem to recapture the mojo that helped him reel off three major victories from 2015-2017.
His win at the 2017 British Open is actually his last PGA Tour title of any kind. It’s been a steady decline since then as he’s fallen to 62nd in the world.
The struggles continued on Thursday with a 3-over, putting him tied for 109th. He was seen working with his swing coach on the driving range for several hours after the round.
Spieth is just 27 and still has plenty of prime years ahead of him if he can find a way to get his groove back.
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