By Stan Awtrey, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
JOHNS CREEK, Ga. -- Jerry Kelly was playing a practice round with his buddy Steve Stricker earlier this week when he came to an understanding about the tactically correct way to approach the Atlanta Athletic Club. Although the course is long and difficult, Kelly began to see it in a different light.
“We saw that you really didn't need to overpower this golf course,” Kelly said. “Position was the key. It certainly helped me. We made a lot of birdies the last two days. We're not natural long hitters.”
Kelly used the alternative approach to shoot a 5-under 65 on Thursday, matching his lowest score in the PGA Championship. He's two shots behind Stricker, who tied a tournament record with an opening-round 63.
“I'm guessing that's probably a low mark in major championship history for me,” said Kelly, who also shot a 65 in the second round at Baltusrol in 2005. “That doesn't go too deep.”
Kelly's history at the PGA Championship has not been stellar. This is the 15th year he's participated in the event and he's made the cut only four times. He didn't qualify for the weekend the last four seasons and his best finish is a tie for 26th in 1999 at Medinah.
Kelly was able to dial back on his aggressive nature during the first round. He bemoaned the inability to do that in the past and how it has caused him unnecessary difficulties at times.
“I'm trying to scale it back a little bit this week and I did a fantastic job today,” he said. “I've never known any other way than to go at it as close to 100 percent as I can. I've never had the technique. I've never had the swing to be able to gear down except for in a short golf swing type of way.”
Kelly started on the back nine and jumped off to a great start with birdies on three of the first four holes. He drove the ball in the right places and gave himself a chance to score.
“I was happy with the way I drove the ball, No. 1,” Kelly said. “That's what you have to do at this golf course. Getting it in the fairway is A-Number One. I don't hit 3-wood on many 470, 480-yard par 4s and I'm doing that here, so it's a testament to the golf course, but it's also great how they're setting it up.”
Kelly didn't put his approach shots particularly close to the hole, but he was dialed in on the Atlanta Athletic Club's Bermuda greens.
He made a 15-footer for birdie a No. 10 (his first hole), two-putted from 40 feet for a birdie at No. 11, made a 15-footer for birdie at No. 13, and added a 15-footer for birdie at No. 16. He wedged his way for a pair of birdies on the second nine, making a 12-footer at No. 5 and No. 6. His only bogey was at the 15th, where he failed to save par from a greenside bunker.
The limited number of mistakes has thrust Kelly into contention for one of the rare times this year. In 19 events he's made the cut 10 times, but hasn't made a serious run since he placed third at The Honda Classic, one of two top-10s this season.
And while Kelly doesn't want to get ahead of himself, he admitted it would be nice if the two friends from Wisconsin were able to go head-to-head in Sunday's finale.
“I think we'd have a great time playing down the stretch,” he said.