Sunday, July 14, 2024

US PGA Championship: Xander Schauffele leads as Rory McIlroy starts well – BBC Sport

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Image caption, Xander Schauffele is the reigning Olympic champion but is yet to win a major

  • Author, Steve Sutcliffe
  • Role, BBC Sport journalist

US PGA Championship leaderboard, round one

-9 Schauffele (US); -6 Finau (US), Theegala (US); -5 McIlroy (NI), MacIntyre (Sco), Morikawa (US), Hoge (US), Kim (Kor), Detry (Bel), McNealy (US)

Selected others: -4 Koepka (US), Scheffler (US); -3 Hovland (Nor), Smith (Aus), Rai (Eng); -2 Spieth (US), Thomas (US), Fitzpatrick (Eng); -1 Rahm (Spa); +1 Woods (US)

Xander Schauffele hit a major record-equalling 62 to set the pace in the first round of the US PGA Championship in Kentucky.

The American holed nine birdies in a sensational bogey-free round to lead by three at Valhalla.

Americans Tony Finau and Sahith Theegala sit in a tie for second on six under, one stroke ahead of Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa and Robert MacIntyre, who were among seven players to post five-under-par 66s.

Defending champion Brooks Koepka is at four under in a group with world number one Scottie Scheffler – who began in ominous fashion by holing a 167-yard nine-iron for an eagle-two on the opening hole.

Two-time major winner Jon Rahm recovered from a dismal start – dropping four shots in the first six holes – to sign for a one-under-par 70.

Schauffele posted just the fourth 62 in a major championship, matching the score both he and Rickie Fowler carded in round one of last year’s US Open, and Branden Grace’s effort at the 2017 Open Championship.

Those rounds were all at par-70 courses. Valhalla is a par-71 course.

It was an almost faultless display by the 30-year-old Californian, who started on the 10th and had five birdies in his opening nine holes to climb to the top of the leaderboard.

“It’s a great start,” said the world number three, who missed a 32-foot putt at the last to post the first 61, but he still beat the course record of 63 set by Jose Maria Olazabal in 2000.

Schauffele has struggled to finish off good starts though and has not recorded a victory since winning the 2022 Scottish Open.

He dropped to joint 10th at the 2023 US Open and also led from the first round at last week’s PGA Tour event at Quail Hollow but was caught and passed by McIlroy in the closing holes.

“I think not winning makes you want to win more, as weird as that is,” Schauffele added. “For me, at least, I react to it, and I want it more and more and more.”

McIlroy overcomes mid-round wobble

McIlroy, who comes into this week on a good run of form having won on his past two PGA Tour starts, is once again in Schauffele’s rear-view mirror.

The world number two also has form at Valhalla, having won his fourth and last major to date at this venue in 2014.

He started brightly from the 10th with two birdies in his opening four holes.

But a bogey on the 17th was followed by a wayward drive that found water on the par-five 18th. However, the Northern Irishman scrambled a par and that proved the catalyst for a sparkling second nine.

He birdied the first after his second shot from deep rough hit the flagstick and he had a run of three successive birdies from the fifth, including a chip-in from greenside rough on the sixth.

“That was huge,” McIlroy said of his shot into the first hole. “I could have easily bogeyed 18 and been back to even par, and then that ball on one could have hit the flagstick and went anywhere. I could have made bogey from that.

“Potentially being one over par through 10, I’m two under so it’s a three-shot difference. It’s a big swing.”

However, he added: “I’m not really happy with how I played but I am at least happy with the score.”

He was joined on five under by South Korea’s Tom Kim, Belgium’s Thomas Detry, Americans Tom Hoge, Maverick McNealy and Morikawa, and Scotland’s MacIntyre, who followed three birdies on his front nine with two more coming home.

“I had zero expectations,” said the left-hander. “I got off to a nice start and my caddie did well in managing me when I was out of position. But it was just a solid round of golf.”

Rahm recovers, Tiger struggles & Scheffler scrambles

After toiling at Augusta National in April where he eventually ended in a tie for 45th, Rahm endured a start to forget and looked far from at ease with his own game.

Having spent the early part of the round in and out of the rough he rallied wonderfully but his frustrations were clearly evident when he tossed his iron into the fairway after pulling his approach to the 16th green.

However, birdies on the 17th and 18th, his fourth and fifth on the back nine, completed a superb damage limitation exercise for the Spaniard.

Scheffler is playing his first tournament since becoming a father. Like McIlroy he is also chasing a third successive victory after winning the Masters and RBC Heritage in April before taking some time off for the birth.

And he made a stunning return, holing out from the fairway on the first but that was the high point in a round that also showed elements of rustiness, with some uncharacteristic mis-hits into greens.

“I’d like to clean up a few of the mistakes,” he said before adding it was “overall a solid round”.

Cameron Smith, the 2022 Open champion, who remarkably saved par on the seventh hole after playing his second from the water in bare feet, finished among a group on three under, alongside Norway’s Viktor Hovland and England’s Aaron Rai.

Jordan Spieth, who is making his seventh attempt to become the sixth player to complete the Grand Slam of winning all four majors, started with a solid 69 to be level with his good friend and two-time winner Justin Thomas, who was well supported by his hometown crowd in Louisville, Kentucky.

Matt Fitzpatrick birdied the last to join Spieth and Thomas, while European Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald, who was in the first group out at 07:25 local time, carded a one-under 70. Fellow Englishmen Justin Rose and Matt Wallace also carded 70s.

Tyrrell Hatton is one further back while Tommy Fleetwood signed for a one-over 72.

Tiger Woods, who won the 2000 US PGA title at Valhalla to claim the third leg of what would become his ‘Tiger Slam’, conceded he “struggled from tee to green” after closing with successive bogeys as he also posted a 72.

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