Thorbjorn Olesen earned a share of the lead after a tough opening day of scoring at the 99th PGA Championship as only 24 players managed to break par at Quail Hollow.
Olesen fired a commendable 67 to set the early clubhouse target at four under, and he looked set to retain the outright lead until the end of the day until Kevin Kisner birdied three of the last five holes.
Rory McIlroy was just two off the lead after three birdies in four holes around the turn, but he bogeyed 13 and double-bogeyed the next after pulling his tee shot into water before four closing pars got him round in 72, while Grand Slam hopeful Jordan Spieth is also one over thanks to a pair of late birdies.
Olesen was the stand-out player of the morning starters as birdies at seven and eight offset a bogey at the sixth, and the World Cup-winning Dane picked up further shots at the 14th and 15th to head the field.
The 27-year-old, who has not had a top-10 finish in a major since the 2013 Masters, misjudged a chip at the 17th and bogeyed, but he responded with a superb 27-foot putt for birdie at the last.
“I’ve had a couple of top-10s in majors and I feel like I’ve learned a lot over the years playing quite a few majors now. I feel like I’m better prepared to be in contention over the weekend and have a chance to win,” said Olesen, who lifted his confidence with the driver as he fired weekend rounds of 67 and 65 at last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
“I just found something in my driver last weekend and I was able to start to go at the pins and making some birdies,” he added. “That definitely gave me a lot of confidence.”
Kisner reeled off three straight birdies on the front nine and then hit back from a bogey at the 13th with birdies at 14, 15 and 18, and the two-time PGA Tour winner is one of 12 Americans occupying the top 14 places in Charlotte.
US Open champion Brooks Koepka described the punishing layout as a “bomber’s paradise” after he birdied three of his last five holes to return a 68 along with compatriots Gary Woodland, Grayson Murray, Chris Stroud and DA Points, who was in a play-off with McIlroy and eventual champion Rickie Fowler at the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship at this venue.
Paul Casey led the British challenge despite not having his “best stuff”, carding five birdies in a 69 which was matched by the likes of Patrick Reed and Fowler, who staged a superb recovery from a triple-bogey seven at the fifth.
Fowler’s bid for a maiden major got off to a great start when he birdied the third and fourth, but he came to grief at the next when he needed two attempts to escape a fairway bunker and eventually found the putting surface with his fifth before two-putting.
He responded with three birdied in four holes around the turn and, after a bogey at 11, and got back to two under with an excellent up-and-down for birdie at the 14th before parring safely home.
Runaway Firestone champion Hideki Matsuyama endured a roller-coaster finish to his round as he fought back from three straight bogeys with three birdies in a row to close out a 70, while Tommy Fleetwood, 2016 winner Jason Day, world No 1 Dustin Johnson and rising star Jon Rahm were also one under for the day.
Open champion Spieth arrived in Charlotte bidding to become the youngest player in history to complete a career Grand Slam of major titles, but he was three over with three to play until reviving his challenge with birdies at the seventh and eighth to salvage a 72.
His score was matched by McIlroy, but the Northern Irishman would have been hoping to be much closer to the lead after he bounced back from two bogeys in three holes with birdies at seven, eight and 10.
However, the world No 4’s hopes of a first major win since lifting the Wanamaker Trophy three years ago suffered a setback when he fluffed a chip at the 13th and compounded the error by tugging his three-wood into the hazard at the next.