ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy are the top three players in the Official World Golf Ranking, but only one of them performed like it in the opening round of the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club on Thursday.
Scheffler, who picked up his first major championship victory at the Masters last season, one of his six victories since February 2022, carded a 3-under 67 to grab a share of third place, 2 strokes behind leader Eric Cole. After a nearly two-hour frost delay to start the day, play was suspended at 8:30 p.m. ET because of darkness.
It was another solid start for Scheffler, who already has seven top-10 finishes in 11 starts in majors as a pro, including a tie for 10th at the Masters in April. Thursday’s effort was his first bogey-free round in 51 rounds in majors. Scheffler hit 8 of 14 fairways and 11 of 18 greens and went 7-for-7 scrambling.
“This place is pretty tough,” Scheffler said. “I came into today’s round just trying to play solid golf. I kept the course in front of me for the most part and hit some really good tee shots on the important holes. Then I had some nice saves as well. It’s just one of those places where you hit one shot maybe barely offline, and sometimes can you hit a good shot and end up in a place where it’s pretty penalizing. There’s lots of tough holes out there.”
McIlroy and Rahm found plenty of penalizing spots on Thursday. Rahm, the No. 1 player in the world after claiming his second major at the Masters, posted a 6-over 76. The Spaniard birdied the first hole and was 1 under after six holes, but then had six bogeys, a double bogey and one birdie the rest of the way.
According to research by ESPN Stats & Information, Rahm carded the worst opening-round score to par in a PGA Championship by a world No. 1 player. Greg Norman (1990) and Tiger Woods (2005) shared the previous record of 5 over.
“The main thing on this course is hitting the fairway,” said Rahm, who hit only 5 of 14. “If you put the ball in the fairway you can actually give yourself a lot of good chances. … Couldn’t find the fairway and the fairways that I missed cost me bogeys.”
The bad news for Rahm: The last player to card a 76 or worse in the opening round of a major and come back to win was Jack Fleck at the 1955 U.S. Open. Rahm said he’ll keep fighting to try to get back into contention.
“If I can somehow manage to put [up] a low one tomorrow and find myself close to even par going into Sunday, I think I’ll have a decent chance,” Rahm said.
McIlroy, a four-time major winner, had many of the same problems on Thursday that plagued him when he missed the cut at the Masters in April. He sprayed his driver, hitting only 2 of 14 fairways. He also needed 30 putts and lost more than a stroke to the field in putting.
For everything that went wrong, McIlroy scraped together a 1-over 71. He finished his round with three pars and a birdie in the last four holes. Slow starts are nothing new for McIlroy. His first-round scoring average in majors is 71.7 since 2015. According to ESPN Stats & Information data, his scores get better with each round: 70.7 in the second, 70.2 in the third and 69.4 in the fourth.
“There [were] a couple of glimmers of hope in there coming in,” McIlroy said.
Out of nowhere
Injuries and swing and body changes — and the fact that players aren’t receiving world-ranking points for their finishes in LIV Golf League events — have caused Bryson DeChambeau to plummet to No. 214 in the world.
How bad has his game been lately? Consider these statistics from ESPN Stats & Information:
In DeChambeau’s last nine 72-hole worldwide stroke-play tournaments since January 2022, he missed the cut or withdrew seven times.
DeChambeau did tie for eighth at the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews in July, but that was the exception. In American majors, he had posted scores over par in each of his previous nine rounds, with a scoring average of 75. He hadn’t carded an under-par round in a U.S. major since a 68 in the third round of the 2021 U.S. Open.
DeChambeau has never had the lead after any round in his two-year LIV Golf career. His best finish in a tournament was a tie for fifth in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, last week.
But there DeChambeau was on Thursday, hitting tee shots long (and straight!), hitting 15 of 18 greens and ranking near the top of the field in strokes gained: putting. He carded a 4-under 66 and was alone in second place when play was stopped.
Not every one of DeChambeau’s shots was on line. He hit an errant tee shot on the 17th fairway that hit PGA club professional Kenny Pigman, who was standing on the 18th tee box. DeChambeau screamed, “Fore!” and apologized to Pigman.
Bryson DeChambeau had an errant tee shot that hit Kenny Pigman 😬 pic.twitter.com/1r6LwM1xBH
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 18, 2023
It’s been a long road back for the 2020 U.S. Open champion.
“Look, I love the game, and I love being a part of helping inspire kids to play golf and grow the game in whatever possible way I can,” DeChambeau said. “But I will say that there have been times where it’s like, ‘Man, I don’t know where this is worth all of it.'”
What about the other LIV Golf League guys?
DeChambeau wasn’t the only LIV Golf League player on the Oak Hill leaderboard when play was suspended on Thursday night. Dustin Johnson (3 under) was tied for third, and Belgium’s Thomas Pieters was tied for 10th (1 under). Harold Varner III (even) was tied for 20th. Phil Mickelson, who tied for second at the Masters, was 1 over through 16 holes.
Brooks Koepka had a bogey on his last hole to record a 2-over 72, and reigning Open Championship winner Cameron Smith and Patrick Reed posted the same score. Mito Pereira, who took a 1-shot lead into the 72nd hole of last season’s PGA Championship, was 2-over after 15 holes. Talor Gooch (4 over through 15) and Joaquin Niemann (4 over) have work to do to stick around for the weekend.
Who’s in danger of missing the cut?
Even in warmer temperatures and lighter winds on Thursday, Oak Hill’s East Course showed its teeth. Scheffler was the only player in the top 10 in the world (No. 9 Will Zalatoris isn’t playing after undergoing back surgery) who posted a score under par.
The players with the top 70 scores and ties will make the 36-hole cut. There were 75 players at 3 over or better when play was stopped. Among the players who are in danger after 18 holes are Cameron Young (4 over), Sam Burns (4 over), Patrick Cantlay (4 over after 16 holes), Matt Fitzpatrick (6 over), Rahm (6 over), Jason Day (6 over) and Sungjae Im (10 over).
Jordan Spieth, who can complete the career grand slam by winning the Wanamaker Trophy, carded a 3-over 73 in the first round. He skipped last week’s scheduled start at the AT&T Byron Nelson because of a left wrist injury. It is the fourth consecutive year he opened the PGA Championship with a score of 72 or higher. He tied for 71st in 2020, for 30th in 2021 and for 34th in 2022.
The weather should be better
After Thursday’s chilly start, temperatures should be much warmer when the first round resumes at 7 a.m. ET on Friday. There were 33 players left on the course when play was stopped. Forecasts call for temperatures in the mid-50s. There’s an 80% chance of rain Friday night and 89% chance on Saturday. About a half-inch of rain is expected on Saturday.
“I felt like today there wasn’t as much wind, and [Friday] it looked like the wind is going to be blowing 10 to 20 [mph],” Scheffler said. “I thought I saw a lot of that over the next three days as well. So going into today it looked like it was going to be really calm. That was just my thought. Could be wrong.”