Bellerive Country Club wasn’t nearly the pushover some thought it would be among the morning wave of players Thursday for the first round of the 100thPGA Championship.
Only one player truly solved it, and that was Rickie Fowler.
Taking advantage of an early tee time, when the soft putting greens had yet to get tracked up, Fowler made six birdies and shot a round of 5-under-par 65. The Murrieta native held a two-shot lead over six players who also had finished, including Jason Day, Ian Poulter, Stewart Cink and Pat Perez.
The afternoon group that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth had yet to tee off when Fowler finished.
“You get me in the fairway, and with the soft greens, I feel like we can pick apart the golf course, as long as we continue to play smart and within ourselves,” Fowler said.
Starting on the 10th, Fowler shot 1 under on his first nine, and then reeled off four birdies over the next eight holes. At the seventh, he drained a 31-foot putt for birdie.
Tiger Woods was tied for 33rd after his morning round, and the even-par 70 he shot was about the best he could have hoped for. Starting on the 10th hole, he scrambled back from a 3-over start through two holes.
Over the last 16 holes, he made only one other bogey and four birdies.
“I could have easily gone the other way, being 3 over through two,” Woods said. “A lot of things could happen — not a lot of them were positive. But I hung in there and turned it around.
“This afternoon, the guys are going to face a little more wind than we did this morning. Just happy to be within five right now.”
Justin Thomas, the defending PGA champion, was tied for the lead at 3 under at one point, but he dropped two shots on his back nine and scored 1-under 69. Rory McIlroy shot 70.
Among the other notable players from the morning wave, Phil Mickelson dug a big hole in trying to make it to the weekend. The San Diegan suffered two double bogeys and shot 73. He somewhat salvaged the round with birdies on the fifth and eighth as he finished his round on the front nine.
Starting on the 10th tee with Thomas and McIlroy, Woods drove into the fairway rough on the first hole, had to punch out and made bogey. He hit an iron off the tee at the short, par-4 11th into the left rough, and his approach to a tucked pin found the water short. Double bogey was the result.
Heading for the next tee, Woods ducked into a porta potty and changed his sweat-soaked shirt. That did the trick for a hole, as he finally hit a fairway and rifled his approach to 2 feet for birdie.
Woods trailed the leaders, including Thomas, by six shots after eight holes, and it could have been worse. He made two big par saves at 15 (two hooks into the trees) and 17 (a woefully short approach into a bunker).
Then came two straight birdies. Woods eschewed his driver for a fairway wood at 18, and the layup to 183 yards must have been a good number, because he striped his approach to 4 feet.
At No. 1, Woods had 147 yards to the flagstick, put his approach to 10 feet and made the putt to scramble back to 1 over.