Rory McIlroy and a host of other stars sputter as Jimmy Walker sets PGA Championship pace
Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson were among the stars humbled by Baltusrol in Thursday’s opening round of the PGA Championship, leaving unheralded Jimmy Walker to seize the lead.
Walker, a 37-year-old American who missed the cut in three of his past four majors, fired a five-under-par 65 on the course in Springfield, New Jersey, for a one-stroke lead over Britain’s Ross Fisher, two-time major winner Martin Kaymer of Germany and Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo.
“All in all it was a great day,” Walker said. “I feel like I’ve prepared and I’m ready to go this week. It’s nice that’s what showed.”
New British Open champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden shared fifth on 67 with Britain’s Andy Sullivan and Americans Harris English and James Hahn.
WATCH: Opening day highlights
“I’m very happy,” Stenson said. “It was a solid round and a good start. I couldn’t ask for anything more than this.”
Top-ranked defending champion Jason Day was among 12 players on 68. The Australian hung three off the pace despite fighting fatigue and illness and playing only one practice round.
“Missed a lot of opportunities. I haven’t had the greatest putting display,” Day said. “To hit it where I wanted and execute like I did, really positive going into the next three days.”
But several of the favourites stumbled over the first 18 holes at the 7,428-yard layout.
Johnson, who won his first major at last month’s US Open, had two double bogeys, four bogeys and a lone birdie in a 77.
Fourth-ranked McIlroy, a four-time major winner, fired a birdie-free 74, his worst-ever start in an event he has won two of the past four years.
“I know my game is there, to keep giving myself chances,” McIlroy said.
“Hopefully I’m not shut out tomorrow. I can’t remember the last time I went without a birdie. I’ll stay as patient as I can and hopefully turn it around.”
McIlroy was on the practice green five hours after his round seeking answers.
“I just really struggled on the greens. I had a couple chances I didn’t convert,” McIlroy said. “It just wasn’t my day.”
Five-time major winner Mickelson, the 46-year-old US left-hander who was British Open runner-up two weeks ago, made four bogeys in his first 11 holes but rallied to finish on 71 – six adrift alongside Spain’s Sergio Garcia, two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson and reigning Masters champion Danny Willett.
“To come out and hit shots like I hit those first 11 holes was very disappointing,” Mickelson said. “I’m proud that I hung in there, fought and got three back coming in.
Third-ranked Jordan Spieth took a double bogey at seven but birdied the par-three 16th and par-five 18th to finish on 70.
“Held strong, made a couple par saves. Pleased to grind out even par,” Spieth said. “I’m only five back. I post something tomorrow I’m definitely back in it.”
Groundskeepers were spraying water on certain greens between groups to keep putting surfaces from burning out in the heat, although thunderstorms are forecast the next three days.
Walker, a back-nine starter, followed his lone bogey at the sixth with a 31-foot birdie putt at the seventh to grab the lead.
Two closing pars kept him there and had him pondering possibilities in a year that has already produced three first-time major winners.
“I don’t think it’s coincidence or anything,” Walker said. “They are all good players and it was just a matter of time. So just keep that rolling.”
Kaymer made a run of five birdies in seven holes with a lone bogey at the second keeping him from a share of the lead.
“Nothing easy on the golf course,” Kaymer said. “I just didn’t miss many fairways and therefore, you can create some birdie chances. But at the end of the day you still need to make the putts.”
Grillo made a 30-foot birdie putt at the the par-three fourth to highlight his day.
“It’s very tricky out there,” Grillo said. “If you miss the greens in the wrong spot, you’re going to have trouble getting up and down. It’s a very hard course.”
Fisher overcame humidity that had him consuming more water than he ever expected.
“You have to drink way more than you think. Majors are a tough, long, gruelling week,” Fisher said. “It’s a good start but there’s a long way to go.”