Jordan Spieth produced a spirited finish to revive his bid to become the youngest player to complete a Grand Slam of majors as he opened the PGA Championship with a one-over 72.
With the tough course set-up at Quail Hollow taking its toll on the majority of the field, Spieth was three over with three to play before late birdies at the seventh and eighth hauled him back to within five shots off the early lead.
The Open champion had earlier got off to a solid start and followed five pars with a high-quality up-and-down for birdie at the long 15th, although he gave the stroke straight back at the next when he bunkered his approach and missed from 15 feet for par.
Spieth found another greenside bunker at the first and again failed to get down in two, and he came up short at both the fifth and sixth and could not avoid further bogeys.
But the 24-year-old hit back with a good four at the long seventh, and he pitched to within three feet at the eighth to set up his third birdie of the round before he closed with a cast-iron par at nine.
Spieth was satisfied with his overall game from tee to green, but he was not happy with his putting and admitted he would have to show a vast improvement with the flat stick if he is to contend on Sunday.
“I drove the ball well today, struck it pretty good. If you told me I was going to hit my driver the way that I did today, I would have definitely thought I would have shot a few under par which was an awesome score,” he said. “That was good, but I can’t putt any worse than I did today.
“I don’t think I missed any short putts, I just had really poor speed on my really long putts. I created technically three two-putts that were actually three-putts. One of them I putted off the green, the other two were from off the green. It was so difficult.
“It was just the putter, everything else was fine. My bunker play actually made a lot of progress, but I bailed on my two bunker shots I had today which was frustrating. It was just the bunker play and the greens.
“But I wasn’t frustrated. I hit some good putts that missed and I burned a lot of edges. I didn’t make the one out of five. Instead I missed the 10 out of 10 from that kind of range. If I grabbed a couple of those then I would be pleased obviously.
“Yes, you need to be defensive on these greens. I was defensive and still had to make four to five-footers for par on a couple of them.”
Spieth was in the traditional grouping of the three major champions alongside Masters winner Sergio Garcia, who stuttered to a disappointing 75 after dropping six shots in four holes mid round, while US Open champion Brooks Koepka earned bragging rights in his threeball as he birdied three of the last four holes to return a 68.
Koepka revealed he needed only a pitching wedge for his approach to the 527-yard first hole, and he believes the course is tailor-made to suit his power game.
“This golf course, it’s a bomber’s paradise I think,” Koepka said. “There are some lines we can take over some trees, and you can take a short line into a bunch of them. Like I hit pitching wedge into the first today. I’m pretty sure a bunch of guys are going to be hitting six, or maybe five-iron into that hole.
“Length is a key factor out here, and especially when it’s as wet as it is, it makes those fairways a bit wider. And especially if you can keep it in the fairway, you’ll be just fine.”
Koepka hit 10 fairways in regulation, but one he missed was at the tough 16th when his ball cannoned off a marshal’s head, for which the American was very apologetic.
He added: “Yeah, he was fine. Well, I shouldn’t say fine – he just got drilled in the head. I felt terrible about it. I mean, that’s never fun to walk up and see somebody when you’ve just drilled them. To be honest with you, I felt like crap.
“He was laughing and joking when I was up there, kept telling me ‘You got a good break’. I’ll probably reach out to him tonight and see how he’s doing. I’m sure he’s going to have quite a big headache.”