Eubanks: Moving Day arrives two days early
If anyone was going to make a big move this week, they likely needed to do it in Thursday's perfect conditions. Already, says Steve Eubanks, everyone is bracing for reality to return.
By Steve Eubanks, PGA.com
KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- Today was the day.
If you were going to make a move in the 94th PGA Championship, you needed to do it early. Conditions couldn’t have been more perfect if you’d ordered them off a menu.
The rain that softened and lengthened the course on the practice days blew out and the wind died down in the opening round, leaving a course that has been labeled the toughest in America and “too hard for stroke-play competitions” vulnerable to a boatload of under-par scores.
Only Royal Lytham & St. Annes yielded lower first-round numbers in this year’s majors.
“Geez, I’m playing with Keegan (Bradley) and he’s 3 under through two,” said Tiger Woods, who finished the day 3 under. “You look up on the board and some guys are 4 under through six; a bunch of guys 3 under through five; a couple of them 3 under through three. It’s one of those days where everybody is going to shoot 6, 7, 8 under par.”
Bradley, who finished 4 under, was equally thrilled with the conditions, the calmest anyone can remember in an area where the wind can blow upwards of 30 miles an hour.
“It’s relatively soft because of the rain,” the defending champion said. “But it’s very playable. If you hit the ball in the fairway, you can make a lot of birdies … The weather cooperated for us in the morning, so we couldn’t ask for much more than that.”
The wind picked up slightly in the afternoon and changed directions from what players experienced in the practice rounds, but everyone agreed that Thursday was the day to post a number. When conditions are perfect, they have nowhere to do but down.
“I’m expecting this to be the best day of the week; I think everyone is,” said Rory McIlroy, who got out at 8:10 and finished before the first breath of wind whistled in from Charleston. “We know that there’s going to be a bit of wind coming in and maybe a bit of bad weather. It’s just something that you’re going to have to deal with. I’m just happy that I got off to a great start.”
Even a player like Chris Stroud, who shot 73 and would be considered a dark horse on the brightest of days, said, “I think that’s about as easy as we’re going to see it. The wind was down, and it was soft. But it should dry out.
Softness bred an aggressiveness that is foreign to most major venues. McIlroy hit 10 drivers on day one and found every fairway. That makes any golf course easier. “When you’re hitting it in the fairway and hitting it long, it gives you a big advantage over the field,” he said. “You see a drive go down the middle of the fairway 330 yards, it’s going to give you a bit of confidence, so that’s nice.”
But players are bracing for reality to return. The forecast looks progressively grimmer as the week rolls on. No one believes that this is a 12- or 13-under major, even with the leaderboard bleeding red.
“I would like to see this golf course get really, really hard and see if we can bring that score back down to about 4 to 8 under for the win,” Stroud said.
“Under the right conditions, if it got really firm and fast and you had wind, this would be very difficult,” said Carl Pettersson, who grabbed the early lead with a 6-under 66. “We’ve seen it about as easy as it can get. And it still is a very good and very tough golf course.”
The course will certainly bare its teeth before week’s end. And when it does, patience will be at a premium.
“You have to take what the round gives you,” Keegan Bradley said. “Any time in golf, if you try to push it or force it, bad things can happen.”