PITTSFORD, N.Y. (AP) — Adam Scott began the final major of the year with a tee shot deep into the trees. He ended the opening round of the PGA Championship by having to gouge out of deep rough. It was the golf in between that was some of the best he has ever played, even for an Australian with a green jacket.
Showing that he’s not satisfied as only being a Masters champion, Scott ran off five straight birdies early in his round Thursday on soft and vulnerable Oak Hill, and a 15-foot par putt at the end gave him a 5-under 65 and a share of the lead with Jim Furyk.
“Probably the best run I’ve ever had,” Scott said of his five straight birdies. “I just hit really nice shots and didn’t leave myself too much work. You have to take advantage of that if you’re feeling that. It was a dream start after kind of a nervous first couple of holes.”
It felt like an easy start to so many others.
Oak Hill has such a strong reputation that it has yielded only 10 scores under par over 72 holes in five previous major championships. The last time the PGA Championship was held on this Donald Ross design in 2003, there were only 12 rounds under par on the first day.
But with overnight rain, humid conditions and a 71-minute delay for storms in the afternoon, Thursday might be as easy as it gets. Scott and Furyk had plenty of company, two of 35 players who broke par.
Tiger Woods was not among them.
The world’s No. 1 player made only two birdies despite playing in the still of the morning, and he watched his round fall apart with a bogey on par-5 fourth and a double bogey on his final hole when his flop shot out of a deep rough floated into a bunker. Woods had a 71, not a bad start at Oak Hill, except on this day.
“The round realistically could have been under par easily,” Woods said.
Furyk, who won his lone major at the U.S. Open in 2003 at Olympia Fields, has gone nearly three years since his last win at the Tour Championship to capture the FedEx Cup and win PGA Tour player of the year. Still fresh are the four close calls from a year ago, including the U.S. Open.
He was as steady as Scott, rarely putting himself in trouble until the end of the round. Furyk missed the fairway to the right and had to pitch out because of thick rough and trees blocking his way to the green. That led to his only bogey, but still his lowest first-round score in 19 appearances at the PGA Championship.
“Usually disappointed with ending the day on a bogey,” Furyk said. “But you know, 65, PGA, is not so bad.”
David Hearn of Canada, an alternate until a week ago, had a 66 in the morning. Also at 66 was Lee Westwood, who had his best score ever in the PGA and offered evidence that there was no hangover from losing a 54-hole lead in the British Open last month.
There were no record scores at Oak Hill despite the soft conditions, just a lot of low rounds.
“If you don’t hit it in the fairways, then you won’t score well,” Westwood said. “These guys are good. There are a lot of good players playing in the tournament. Somebody is going to hit it straight, and somebody is going to shoot a good score.”
Scott certainly didn’t start out that way. He had to pitch out from the trees on No. 1, but managed to get up-and-down from about 85 yards in front of the green, and after two more pars, he began his big run of birdies.
“Just got on a bit of a roll and hit a few shots close,” Scott said. “I didn’t have too much putting to do. You’ve got to take advantage when it happens, because it doesn’t happen too much in the majors. Nothing to complain about in 65.”
He felt similar to the opening round at Royal Lytham & St. Annes last year in the British Open, when he flirted with a 63 and had to settle for a course record-tying 64. Scott was on pace to tie the Oak Hill record for majors when he birdied the 14th, but he three-putted two holes later for bogey and was pleased to walk away with par on the 18th.
“I felt good out there today,” he said. “I felt like I could swing freely and I was hitting all the shots that I wanted to hit. When you get something going for you in a major, sometimes you have got to be not afraid to get out of your own way and let go. I did that at Lytham, and I did that here for 10 or 11 holes.”
Just last month at Muirfield, the 31-year-old Australian had the outright lead on the back nine in the British Open until he made four straight bogeys and couldn’t keep up with Phil Mickelson and his great finish. Even so, it was evident that Scott was serious about adding more majors to that green jacket he won at Augusta National in April.
“I put a lot into my game the last two years with a focus on the big tournaments,” Scott said. “Everyone around me has had the same focus, as well. We come here to do business.”
Even Rory McIlroy got in on the act. The defending champion, at the end of a major season that has been a major disappointment, came out firing with three birdies on the opening four holes and made the turn in 32 until back-to-back bogeys. He wound up with a 69.
A resurgent Paul Casey was in the group at 67, while U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, British Open runner-up Henrik Stenson and the ageless Miguel Angel Jimenez were among 11 players at 68.
Mickelson wound up with the same score as Woods, only they arrived at 71 much differently. Woods had only two birdies. Mickelson shot 71 despite two double bogeys, including one on the 18th hole. On the par-5 fourth hole, he hooked his tee shot out-of-bounds and nearly lost the next tee shot in the same place.
“The first four holes was like a shock to my system,” Mickelson said. “Hitting it out-of-bounds on 4 … out-of-bounds is not even in play. So I got off to a terrible start. I was actually under par for a little while, but that took a lot of fight. And unfortunately, I’m in a position where if I hit a low round tomorrow, I can get back in it.”
He headed straight to the practice range, even summoning coach Butch Harmon down from the Sky Sports television booth.
Asked when he finished his work if he was worried about his game, Mickelson replied, “Not now. I was.”
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