Even as play in Thursday’s first round of the 94th PGA Championship
was concluding at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course
, a day that saw 45 of the 156 players in the field shoot scores under par, ominous warnings were being sounded about Friday’s prospects.
Brandel Chamblee, analyst for Golf Channel, summed it up best. “(Thursday), this course was like a pit bull with no teeth,” he said Thursday. “Absolutely soft conditions, no wind to speak of.
“However, there is an ominous forecast for (Friday). It is supposed to storm in the afternoon (and) the wind is going to blow all day. It’s going to be like a pit bull with a bad tooth tomorrow.”
Talk about prescient.
After fierce overnight storms that further soaked The Ocean Course, making it play even longer than its listed 7,676 yards, Friday dawned with winds of 20-25 mph, with gusts up to 30 mph, after Thursday’s mostly benign conditions. Golf Channel showed flags atop the Ocean Course clubhouse snapping in the brisk morning breezes.
Things didn’t get any better for the PGA Tour’s finest once play began. Sporadic rain pelted the players, and while temperatures were comfortable (mid-80s) compared to Thursday’s heat and humidity, the wind did what that capricious force usually does at The Ocean Course. It played havoc with scores.
Consider Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, tied for second after Thursday’s 5-under par 67. On Friday, the native of Madrid, Spain, shot 11 strokes higher, a 78.
“Well, it’s playing tough in this wind, especially,” Fernandez-Castano said. “On the 10th (hole), we started the first four holes playing into the wind, which is never a good thing. But if you start at the first (hole), at least you get the first four holes a little bit downwind, so that didn’t help me much.
“(Six-over par) is not the way I wanted to play today, especially finishing with (four bogeys) on the last four holes.”
It was that sort of day for most. Among the worst collapses: K.J. Choi, 69 Thursday, 77 Friday; Hunter Mahan, 72-80; former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, 68-76; Nick Watney, 73-82; Justin Rose, 69-79; and Alexander Noren, one shot off the lead on Thursday with a 67, shot 80.
Even first-round leader Carl Petterson suffered a falloff, bogeying three straight holes near the end of his round and shooting 74 after a first-round 66 – an eight-shot swing.
Still, not everyone struggled Friday, and those who were able to handle the winds climbed the leader board. Vijay Singh, a two-time PGA champion, shot 3-under par 69 (after a 71 Thursday) and found himself, at the end of the day, tied with Petterson and Tiger Woods for the 36-hole lead at 4-under.
“You just try and hit the ball as solid as you can and hit the fairways, hit the greens and just try to two-putt,” Singh said. “That’s the game plan out there.”
That didn’t mean, though, that Singh had figured things out; he just survived better than most, he said.
“Nobody is used to winds like this,” he said. “If you had a golf course like this and you asked me to go play golf in windy conditions, I’d say no, I’m not going to play. I guess nobody is going to go out and play in conditions like this.
“But it is a major, and we have to go out there and just struggle and manage yourself the best you can, I guess.”
McDowell, who called The Ocean Course “one of the toughest setups I think I’ve seen at a major championship in a long time,” came just shy of declaring the conditions unfair. “I was very happy to get off that golf course, I have to say,” he said. “It’s brutal.
“This golf course is designed to be played in the wind, but the golf course is also saturated (by Thursday night’s rains). Is it unfair? I mean, this is the PGA Championship. You’ve got to go out there and battle it out, and someone is going to win the tournament this weekend. You’ve got to hang tough out there.”
Besides the winds, which affected shots into and with the gusts, The Ocean Course also had stern pin positions, many requiring a delicate touch that most players couldn’t muster in the blustery conditions.
Asked if he was happier to shoot 69 or to be done for the day, Singh shrugged.
“Kind of both. I mean, I’m happy I shot 69 for sure. I would’ve taken 72 when I started off. And I’m happy I’m done, too.”
Things might not get much better Saturday. Weather forecasts were calling for a 60 percent chance of thundershowers and winds from the south-southwest between 10-20 mph. Sunday, the rain chance drops to 30 percent and the winds should be 10-15 mph – which might seem like a zephyr by then.
Until then, though, the scars from Friday’s round will remain. But as Singh said, it’s a major – the first men’s major in South Carolina history – and, as McDowell said, to win it, someone will have to earn it. Winds or not.