ST. LOUIS: Rickie Fowler began his bid for an elusive first major with a brilliant five-under-par 65 to grab the early clubhouse lead at the 100th PGA Championship yesterday as Tiger Woods fought back from a bumbling start.
Playing the back nine first at a sweltering Bellerive Country Club, Fowler was slow out of the gate, mixing two birdies with what would be his only bogey of the day.
But after the turn the 29-year-old American turned hotter than the weather and carded four more birdies to top the leaderboard, two shots clear of a chasing pack including Australian Jason Day, the 2015 PGA champion, and Stewart Cink, the 2009 British Open winner.
Widely regarded as the best player yet to bag a major, Fowler has come close, posting top-five results in all four majors, including second at the Masters in April and runner-up finishes at the 2014 British and U.S. Opens.
The flamboyant American burst on to the golf scene as a 20-year-old, instantly identifiable by his fluorescent kit and becoming the darling of the young fan demographic the golf industry coveted.
The electric yellow and orange outfits have been replaced by more traditional golf attire but the objective remains unchanged with this PGA Championship representing Fowler’s last shot at claiming a major before entering his 30s in December.
“I always have hope,” Fowler said. “I know Phil (Mickelson) didn’t win until his 30s. I don’t know the exact numbers, 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 (Nicklaus) had a lot of runner-ups, we’ll just keep beating down that door.”
Woods, the headliner in an all-star group with four-times major winner Rory McIlroy and defending champion Justin Thomas, got off to a horrific bogey, double-bogey start and spent the rest of his round undoing the damage to salvage a level-par 70.
McIlroy also shot 70 while world number two Thomas, riding the momentum of a confidence-boosting victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last week, opened his title defence with a one-under 69.