The marquee group including defending champion Justin Thomas and multiple PGA Championship winners Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods were no match for Rickie Fowler in round one on Thursday, writes WADE PRETORIUS.
Thomas was the best performer of the marquee grouping which could not produce the standard of golf deserving of the huge galleries that flocked to watch.
The trio have multiple Major titles between them with Thomas defending his title while Woods has four times with McIlroy tasting victory in 2014.
Woods made a disastrous start with a bogey and then a water-induced double on his 2nd. Favouring a driving iron off the tee, Woods started to work his way back before a birdie on his penultimate hole helped him back to level par.
Woods’ 70 was matched by McIlroy with the Northern Irishman once again putting together a mixed round that included two drops and two birdies on the front side and nine straight pars to close.
Thomas, looking to defend his Wanamaker trophy and become the first since Woods in 2007 to do so, moved quickly to -2 with gains on his 2nd and 3rd before grabbing a share of the lead with a birdie on the 15th; his sixth hole. Last week’s winner then inexplicably lost his game and dropped two shots on his inward nine including one on his last after finding the fairway bunker off the tee.
While all three of those players already have ‘Major winner’ ticked off, Fowler does not but made a strong start as he matched his lowest ever round in Major championship to start off his campaign.
Steady all morning, Fowler missed just two greens in regulation with a birdie from the fringe on one of those rare occasions. His inward nine included four birdies without a drop as he continued to put himself in position for birdies.
‘I’m definitely happy but Thursday you can’t go win the golf tournament, ‘ he said.
‘You can definitely take yourself out of it and lose it so we took care of what we needed to take care of today and we move on to Friday and go do what we need to go do tomorrow. I always have hope. I know Phil 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 had a lot of runner-ups, we’ll just keep beating down that door.’
Fowler’s 65 put him at top of the early leaderboard with Jason Day, Aaron Cook, Ian Poulter and Pat Perez all two back after rounds of 67.