PGA Championship - Round One
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Day, Todd atop loaded leaderboard as major championship golf returns after longest ever layoff.

When Jim Barnes won the first PGA Championship in 1916, no one knew he’d have to wait until 1919 to win it again. But World War I got in the way.

And when Brooks Koepka took his second consecutive PGA at Bethpage last May, who thought 448 days would pass until he got a chance to defend it again? But COVID-19 got in the way.

On Thursday, there were no “buts” as the 102nd PGA Championship ended golf’s longest drought without a major at TPC Harding Park. All that got in the way during the opening round was a lot of great golf.

When dusk descended, the leaderboard was littered with major championship winners – including a quartet who have combined to win the Wanamaker Trophy eight times – as the best of the best put up eye-popping numbers.

No one was better than Jason Day, the 2015 PGA Championship winner, as only Brendon Todd, who finished hours after Day, was able to match his 65 on the par-70 layout that hugs Lake Merced.

“I drove it really nicely,” Day said about avoiding the difficult rough. “And when I was out of position, I left myself on the right side of the fairways to be able to at least get somewhere around the greens. If I did miss the greens, I left it in the right spot. Wasn't overly aggressive.”

When the PGA Tour returned in June, Day showed all the effects of three months away from competition. He missed three cuts and the one time he didn’t he was T-46. But he’s shown form of late, finishing T-7 and T-4 then T-6 last week at the WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational.

“I feel like the momentum that I've had over the last three starts has kind of seeped into this week,” Day said.

The playing conditions were best for the morning wave as the wind picked up later in the day, gusting to 20 mph. The morning wave scoring average was nearly a stroke lower than in the afternoon.

The best of those who played late was Todd, a 35-year-old late bloomer who got two of this three PGA Tour wins last year. He hasn’t played in the PGA Championship since 2015, when he missed the cut. A year earlier he was T-72, the only time he played four rounds in the PGA.

But Todd, who a year ago was No. 795 in the world ranking, kept his golf ball out of trouble on Thursday and made putts from all over the Bay Area, including a 10-footer to save par on the last hole. If the leader board is crammed with big names, Todd is certainly chief among the lesser names.

“It feels great to finish with the two-putt and get a share of the lead under difficult conditions,” Todd said after getting down in two from 66 feet on the final hole.

As for his climb from essentially last in the world rankings two years ago, Todd said: “It’s a story of perseverance. Now I’m playing the golf I always knew I was capable of. The game is there. The confidence is there. Now I have to let my sticks do the talking.”

Bryson DeChambeau looked like he might catch Day, getting to four under par on No. 10. But he struggled in the wind and finished at 68. Paul Casey also got to four under par but made double bogey on No. 18 to be at 68. Among the best afternoon rounds were 67s by Haotong Li and J.T Poston.

Of all the storylines coming into this PGA, a couple of the most compelling are very much alive. Brooks Koepka, trying to become only the fourth man since 1882 to win the same major three years in a row, is one stroke back after a 66.

“I thought I played really well,” Koepka said. “Put the ball in the fairway, hit some greens and made putts. You just try to break it down pretty simple, and did a good job of that today. I mean, it's only 18 holes right now. I feel good. I feel confident.”

A win for Tiger Woods would tie him with Walter Hagen and Jack Nicklaus with a record five PGA Championship victories and move him past Sam Snead with a record 83rd PGA Tour win. A solid 68 after only four competitive rounds since mid-February was Tiger’s way of saying, I may be 44 years old, but Jack won a major at 46. He wasn’t at his best, but he was good enough.

“I think the big par putts is what enabled [me] to keep momentum of the round going,” Woods said about the job the new putter in his bag did.

“This golf course, you have to hit the ball in the fairway,” he said. “You get a ball in the rough, into the grain, there's no chance you can get the ball to the green. The golf course is only going to get more difficult as the week goes on.”

Jordan Spieth’s effort to complete the career Grand Slam took a hit with an opening-round 73.

Joining Day as the major winners who were in red numbers are Martin Kaymer, Zach Johnson and Justin Rose, who were among those who joined Koepka at 66. Gary Woodland is among those at 67 with Shane Lowry in a knot with Woods at 68

This is what we were waiting for. Major championship golf was back on Thursday – and it didn’t disappoint. And the best part is that we have three more days of the PGA Championship.

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