Good conditions did not make Quail Hollow play any easier, as the regular PGA Tour stop showed some teeth during the first round of the 2017 PGA Championship.
Only 25 of the 156 golfers in the field posted a score under par. The “Green Mile” — holes 16, 17 and 18 — all played nearly a half-stroke over par on average and players all over the leaderboard were left grinding after posting big numbers on a day when the average score for the field was just shy of 75.
No one was a better example of that grind than Rickie Fowler. Still in search of his first major win, Fowler fell way back early with a triple-bogey on the 5th hole only to battle back with four birdies in his next nine holes, finishing the day just two strokes off the lead.
Here’s how the leaderboard looks heading into Friday:
T1. Thorbjorn Olesen (-4): After coming in 10th at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Olesen has kept that fine form rolling at Quail Hollow. This isn’t his first time making noise at a major, but it’s been a while since he finished sixth at The Masters (2013) and ninth at The Open Championships (2012).
T1. Kevin Kisner (-4): He’s not the longest driver of the golf ball, but Kisner got it done with sharp accuracy and a hot streak on each side. First came three-straight birdies on 6, 7, 8 and then birdies on 14, 15 and 18 to finish in a tie for the lead. Kisner was one of the last ones on the course Thursday, so he’ll get the first crack at the course tomorrow, possibly before the worst of potential inclement weather.
T3. Grayson Murray (-3): The Raleigh, North Carolina, native had never played Quail Hollow prior to this week and told reporters it might have given him an advantage after firing a 68 in his opening round. Murray dropped a bogey-free 32 on the back nine, still riding the confidence from his first PGA Tour win just a few weeks ago at the Barbasol Championship.
T3. Gary Woodland (-3): Out on the course early, Woodland helped set the pace for the day. His round was filled with impressive up-and-downs for par and birdie that kept his card clean except for a bogey at the nasty 16th. After three-straight top-25 finishes at Quail Hollow, Woodland expected to play well and should be able to remain in the mix thanks to his driver.
T3. Brooks Koepka (-3): “It’s a bombers course,” Koepka told reporters after his round of 68. The U.S. Open champion clocked in with better than 70 percent averages on driving accuracy and green in regulation while recording a driving distance average of 313.9 yards. You need to hit fairways in order to score with the rough up at Quail Hollow, and with his length off the tee it’s hard not to like Koepka’s chances to stay in contention through the weekend.
T3. Chris Stroud (-3): Par saves kept Stroud in the mix on the front side and three birdies on the back have him one stroke off the lead thanks to a bogey-free round on Thursday. Stroud was supposed to be home this week but a win last week in Reno at the Barracuda Championship — his first PGA Tour victory — got him into the field.
T3. D.A. Points (-3): Unlike some of the other leaders, Points started on the back nine and got to tackle the Green Mile early. After going par-par-par on that stretch of the course, Points showcased his Quail Hollow experience on the greens with a sharp putting performance and finished with two birdies and six pars on the final eight holes.
T8. Rickie Fowler, Paul Casey, Patrick Reed, Bud Cauley, Jim Herman, Tony Finau (-2): The highlight here is obviously Fowler, but Finau and Casey are equally as dangerous and likely to make a move up the leaderboard on Friday. Seeing Harman here is not surprising given his contention at the U.S. Open at Erin Hills yet somewhat out of place given the supposed advantage the long hitters have at Quail Hollow.
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