It has been nearly 400 days since Open Champion Shane Lowry won at Royal Portrush but in driving through the front gates of TPC Harding Park, the proud Irishman confessed he had the ‘feeling’, despite the absence of spectators, he was finally making his way back into the majors.
Lowry continued his recent and welcome return to form with a comfortable two-under par 68 on day one of the PGA Championship at San Francisco.
Aussie Jason Day, winner of the 2015 PGA at Whistling Straits, was the early round leader impressively not dropping a shot in a five-under par 65 before he was joined at the close of play by Brendon Todd who also shot 65.
Day, 32 is teeing-up this week in his 11th PGA Championship and naturally was delighted with his start, especially given the Ohio-based golfer was in the news recently having parted with his long-time coach and mentor.
Fellow former PGA winner Martin Kaymer signed for a four-under 66, joining defending champion Brooks Koepka also with a 66 as Koepka seeks to become just the third player in history to win the same major three years running.
Tiger Woods, seeking a 16th Majors victory, impressed in matching Lowry’s 68 in a round where Woods posted five birdies
Lowry is grouped with Koepka and also reigning US Open winner, Gary Woodland for the opening two rounds in the Golden Gate City and was pleased with his day’s work off the back of brilliantly grabbing a share of sixth less than a week ago in Memphis.
“I went out there expecting it to be quite difficult so I was probably a bit negative for the first few holes, but it was quite easy out there this morning,” said Lowry in heading to the clubhouse then just inside the top-20.
“There was not much wind, a little bit warmer. So, the ball was going a little bit further, so you had a little shorter clubs.
“That’s why the scoring is quite good, because it’s just warmer than it was in practice. In practice it was like anything under par would have been a great score, but today it was quite gettable this morning, and you can see that from the leader-board.”
Lowry’s score of 68 in his 27th PGA Championship equaled a first round best in also shooting a 68 on day one of the 2014 championship with his round a few shots fewer than his PGA Championship average of 71.13.
Unlike Royal Portrush where some 60,000 fans cheered Lowry onto victory in the 148th Open, he was asked after his round what the atmosphere was like driving through the front gates of Harding Park and seeing no spectators.
“On the way over here in the car this morning, I was feeling a few of those feelings in driving to a major,” he said.
“I was feeling like I was driving to a big event. I was driving in the gate — and on the first tee I was feeling it a little bit. I was kind of anxious to get going, like I would be at any major.
“Yeah, it was nice to have. You know, I didn’t have that feeling on the first tee in Memphis last week, so it was nice to have that feeling this week.
“This is a huge event. It doesn’t matter whether it’s 50,000 people here or no one. It’s kind of — it would be nicer if there was 50,000 people here, but we all know how big this event is and how much it would mean to the winner at the end of the week.
“You’re just out there trying your hardest and doing your best.”
Rory McIlroy ended his round shortly behind Lowry posting a ‘no frills’ 70 and in looking at past opening round PGA career stats, it was his fourth best score with three prior rounds in the 60s and two of those, in 2012 and 2014, when he went on to win.
And not for a first time in recent weeks, McIlroy birdied the first hole in landing his second shot at the back of the green at the par-5 10th, his opening hole, before chipping to some 10-feet and rolling in the putt.
As a harbinger for a hopeful low scoring round for the current World No. 3, it wasn’t to be.
McIlroy bogeyed his third hole (12th on the card), his fourth (13th) and three-putted for 43-feet at his fifth (14th).
He recovered all three shots with birdies at his sixth, ninth and 10th holes but a bogey at his 15th hole, or the sixth on the Harding Park scorecard, sent him back to level ahead of three closing pars.
In a check of his rounds ‘stats’, McIlroy hit just five of 14 fairways and four of those were over his outward nine, something that he says he needs to work on ahead of round two.
“I just need to hit a few more fairways tomorrow to try to attack some pins and get it closer, and not leave myself 4- and 5-footers for par all day,” he said.
“Yeah, you know, it was there for the taking today. I mean, I feel like I definitely could have been a few shots lower, but you know, I sort of grinded it out and with how I hit it on the back nine, even par actually wasn’t too bad.”
Graeme McDowell, the third of the Irish teeing-up this week, was out in the afternoon half of the first day.
It was definitely the tougher side of the draw with GMac making the turn in two-over par with two bogeys on the card before dropping two more shots on the way home, cancelled out by two birdies in a two-over par 72 that leaves him in tied 90th overnight.
Full scoring HERE