US PGA Championship: Rickie Fowler one off lead as Ian Poulter and Justin Rose shine at Bellerive
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 13/08/18 1:08am
Rickie Fowler's bid to make his long-awaited major breakthrough got off to a great start as he ended the first day of the PGA Championship just one off the lead.
Fowler, wearing a striking yellow shirt as a tribute to the late Jarrod Lyle, fired a five-under 65 to claim the early clubhouse lead which he held for several hours until being surpassed by an inspired Gary Woodland at a sweltering Bellerive Country Club.
Ian Poulter boosted his hopes of automatic Ryder Cup qualification as he opened with a confident 67, a score matched by Justin Rose despite him being hampered by a back problem, while Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy both opened with level-par 70s.
The first-round scoring was nowhere near as prolific as had been predicted with less than 50 of the 156-man field breaking the par of 70, and it was Woodland who took the honours after day one as he recovered from a nervy start with a barrage of birdies.
Woodland, who has never posted a top-10 finish in 27 major appearances, bogeyed the first but steadied himself with a good run of pars before closing out a front-nine 34 with back-to-back birdies.
The 34-year-old then enjoyed a sparkling run of five birdies in seven holes from the 11th, and a cast-iron par at the last ensured he would enjoy the overnight lead ahead of Fowler.
Fowler played the back-nine first and, after turning in 34, he birdied the first and third before adding another from 30 feet at the seventh, and one further gain at the next took him clear of the early starters and he insisted he was not overly concerned about finally getting over the line in a major after so many near-misses.
"I would have liked a 64, but you can't win the tournament on a Thursday," said the 29-year-old in his last chance to win a major before entering his 30s. "I always have hope. I know Phil Mickelson didn't win until his 30s, but it's not something I necessarily worry about.
"Keep putting ourselves in position, get in contention, we have had plenty of runner-ups, Jack had a lot of runner-ups, so we'll just keep beating down that door."
Two-time major winner Zach Johnson carded an impressive 66 to earn a share of third alongside last month's Scottish Open champion Brandon Stone, with Poulter and Rose a further stroke back in a group of 11 players on three under including an emotional Jason Day and world No 1 Dustin Johnson.
Poulter boosts Ryder Cup bid
Ian Poulter took another step towards his aim of automatic qualification for the Ryder Cup as he enjoyed a strong start to the PGA Championship.
Poulter birdied three of his first six holes before responding to two bogeys with late birdies at the seventh and eighth to get back to three under, while a cautious Rose admitted he was hitting his driver at "90 per cent" in his five-birdie 67 just a week after pulling out of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational due to back spasms.
Johnson twice made three consecutive birdies on each nine but also blotted his card with three bogeys to slip three strokes off the pace, while Day mixed four birdies with just one bogey before he admitted he was "tearing up" as his thoughts turned towards compatriot Lyle, who lost his long battle with cancer on Wednesday at the age of only 36.
Thomas Pieters gave a timely reminder to European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn of his capabilities on the big stage as he also handed in a 67, while Open champion Francesco Molinari staged a superb fightback to return a 68 along with the big-hitting Jon Rahm.
Molinari was three over through six holes after following a bogey at five with a double-bogey at the next, but he began his recovery at the eighth and found four more bogeys in a flawless inward half to soar into the top 20.
Tommy Fleetwood also had to dig deep to open with a 69 which matched the earlier effort of Justin Thomas, who won the first-day bragging rights over star playing partners Woods and McIlroy.
Woods got off to a dreadful start as he bogeyed the 10th and then doubled the 11th after knocking his second into the hazard short of the green, but a change into a fresh shirt worked wonders as he revived his challenge with a birdie at the 12th following a superb tee shot to two feet.
The 42-year-old made back-to-back birdies around the turn and clawed his way back to level par when he holed from eight feet for birdie at the eighth, and his 70 was matched by McIlroy as the two-time champion offset two birdies with a pair of bogeys and then parred his final eight holes in a solid opener.
Jordan Spieth's hopes of becoming only the sixth player in history to complete a career Grand Slam of majors took an early hit when he double-bogeyed the first hole, although he battled hard to get back to level par only to block his drive into water at the 17th - an error which led to a bogey-six.
Spieth will start his second round seven shots off the lead, while Phil Mickelson has his work cut out to make the cut after he carded two double-bogeys in an erratic 73 which was two stroke better than Paul Casey, whose hopes of locking down a Ryder Cup place were scuppered by an outward 40.