ROCHESTER, New York: Bryson DeChambeau delivered a credibility boost to LIV Golf, firing a 4-under par 66 to seize a one-stroke lead in Thursday’s opening round of the PGA Championship.
The slimmed-down 2020 US Open champion, coming off 2022 left wrist surgery, struck a competitor with an errant shot but managed six birdies against two bogeys to stand atop the field at formidable Oak Hill.
“I hit my putts really well and drove it nicely,” DeChambeau said. “I faced some tough challenges and was able to execute the way I wanted to and, man, it feels really good.”
The 29-year-old American was among the PGA Tour players who jumped to Saudi-backed LIV Golf, which offered record $25 million purses and 54-hole events some said would ruin players for major competition.
DeChambeau’s effort and Masters runner-up efforts by Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson have proven LIV talent can compete for major titles.
The PGA Tour banned LIV players and their legal fight is set for trial in a year. In the meantime the majors are the only place where the best of both tours can compete.
World No. 2 Scottie Scheffler and Canada’s Corey Conners shared second on 67 with New Zealand’s Ryan Fox, 2011 PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley and Norway’s Viktor Hovland on 68.
“It was a grind. The golf course was very tough,” Scheffler said. “And I think these will be the easiest conditions we have all week.”
DeChambeau, once bulked up to boost his power driving, has trimmed down to ease inflammation in his body and says he has the form to win another major.
“It has been a tough time for me the past four or five years,” he said. “(I learned) I can do it again. I’ve got a lot more years for my career.”
As for this week, “I don’t know if I can hold it for four rounds but I played pretty well.”
DeChambeau, a back-nine starter, sent his approach at 17 into the 18th tee box, striking rival player Kenny Pigman in the right arm but not hurting him.
DeChambeau made bogey at 17 but was deadly from then on, making birdie putts of five feet at 18, 13 feet at one, five feet at the par-5 fourth and six feet at six.
Scheffler, this year’s Players Championship winner and last year’s Masters champion, had a bogey-free round.
“I scrambled for 3-under,” Scheffler said. “I was proud getting around here with no bogeys, which is really tough.”
Conners had runs of three birdies in four holes on both the front and back nines while also making three bogeys.
“Felt good to see some putts go in,” Conners said.
Only seven players from the early wave of starters broke par and after a frost delay of 1hr 50mins they played in warm, calm weather.
Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, seeking his first major triumph since 2014, landed in only two of 14 fairways in struggling to a 71, the 10th-hole starter making his only three birdies in a late rally.
“Messy. Didn’t hit the ball well at all,” McIlroy said. “Thought I did really well to shoot one-under in the end.
“To play the last few holes in two-under was a great recovery but I’m going to have to play a lot better if I want a future in this tournament.”
Defending champion Justin Thomas opened on 72 while a group that included the other three reigning major champions struggled as well.
British Open champion Cameron Smith of Australia was with fellow LIV Golf star Brooks Koepka on 72 also.
World No. 1 Jon Rahm, the reigning Masters champion, started with a birdie at the 10th hole and added another at the eighth but in between had six bogeys and a double bogey to finish on 76.
“Couldn’t find the fairway and the fairways that I missed cost me bogeys,” Rahm said.
Reigning US Open champion Matthew Fitzpatrick of England had six bogeys to join Rahm on 76.
World No. 10 Jordan Spieth, who would complete a career Grand Slam with a triumph at Oak Hill, fired a 73. He decided to play Wednesday after testing his injured left wrist for two days.