DeChambeau Surges as Oak Hill Provides Tough Test
A mix of major hopefuls and a pack of proven winners are in the mix atop the leaderboard midway through day one of the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club.
Frost delayed the start of the opening round of the season’s second major championship in Rochester, New York for nearly two hours. But once play began at 8:50 a.m. EST, temperatures warmed rapidly into the mid-50s, and gave way to blue skies and plentiful sunshine for Round 1.
Bryson DeChambeau took advantage of the ideal scoring conditions to jump out to the early lead with a 4-under par, 66. DeChambeau, who won the 2020 U.S. Open to earn a spot in the field at Oak Hill, also recorded his best finish that same season in the PGA Championship with a tie for fourth at TPC Harding Park.
DeChambeau’s game and physical stature has evolved in recent years, taking on different forms as he fought to gain distance and power with his game. But, he’s since taken a more slimmed down approach and played like the DeChambeau of old. And as Keegan Bradley, his playing partner on Thursday, described him: “It looked like Bryson to me.”
And he played like Bryson, too, retooling his driver which he has been struggling with to regain the form that lifted him to a major title in 2020. Thursday, he rattled off six birdies offset by just two bogeys to take the early lead on day one of the PGA Championship.
”Each day I had always this glimmer of hope that I could get back to it,” DeChambeau said about rediscovering his form. “It was never like I've got nothing, I'm done. I could have easily been like, you know what, I had a great career, I'm good. But I didn't because I knew I had it in me to do it every single day, and I worked as hard as I could every single day.”
The hard work paid off on Thursday as DeChambeau was one of just a dozen players who were under par in the early draw and on a morning when much of the field was averaging well over-par. While Mother Nature wasn’t much of a factor on Day 1, the course, on its own, was a tough enough test for the world’s best players.
Several notables struggled during the morning wave, including current world No. 1 Jon Rahm who carded a 6-over par, 76. Defending champion Justin Thomas shot 2-over par, 72 on day one. Rory McIlroy opened with a round of 1-over par, 71.
“Felt like it was pretty tricky to hit fairways, even some of the decent drives that I hit were just missing the fairways, like the drive on there, once you're in this rough, it's just a matter of trying to hit up somewhere near the green and make par,” said McIlroy, who went out in 38. “I actually expected the scoring to be a little bit better today than what it is. I think that's just, you know, as I said, a lot of crosswinds, tricky to hit fairways.”
Scottie Scheffler and Corey Conners opened with rounds of three-under par, 67. For Scheffler, it was his first bogey-free round in a major championship.
“Today was probably the easiest conditions we'll see all week with the golf course. So getting around with no bogeys was really good,” said Scheffler, in anticipation of windier conditions over the next three days. “There's not really many birdie opportunities out there. So if you can limit the mistakes, good things will happen.”
Conners cruised to the top of the leaderboard with six birdies and three bogeys. And found himself in familiar territory as he also was atop the leaderboard during the first round of the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in 2021.
“Probably didn't see six birdies out there in the practice rounds. Playing some holes yesterday morning, the wind wasn't really blowing,” Conners said about the calm conditions for the opening round. “I knew it was possible to give yourself some opportunities.”
Keegan Bradley, the 2011 PGA Champion, opened with a round of two-under par, 68. Bradley began his day on the back nine and got off to a strong start with three birdies in his first four holes but stumbled with a double bogey at the par 3 15th when he failed to get up and down from the greenside bunker.
“I got off to such a great start and hit a horrible shot on 15 to an area you just can't hit in, and then I played great. The finishing holes on both these sides are so hard that you figure, you're going to make a bogey probably unless you hit a perfect shot,” Bradley said about the challenge he faced on Thursday. “You know, 2-under par is a great score. Would I have loved for it to be four but that's just the way this is. We're basically playing a U.S. Open out there, so you're going to make bogeys.”
Viktor Hovland and Ryan Fox opened with rounds of two-under par, 68.
Fox has had a whirlwind start to the year which was punctuated by a T26 in his Masters Tournament debut in April. But the Kiwi hasn’t played since that momentous start as he was diagnosed with pneumonia and had to withdraw from the RBC Heritage the next week. Fox returned home to rest in New Zealand where he also welcomed the birth of his second child and received a special invitation to compete at Oak Hill where he’s making his fifth PGA Championship appearance.
“It's probably pretty surprising as I didn't have a lot of prep coming in and had four weeks off in the lead-up to this with a few things going on, but, for the most part played pretty solid,” Fox said after his round on Thursday. “There were some pretty scruffy iron shots and my short game saved me. I rode a pretty hot putter today, which was nice.”