Charlotte, United States, Aug 10 – Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen and American Kevin Kisner each closed with birdies Thursday to share a one-stroke lead at the PGA Championship while Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy stumbled in quest of golf history.
Olesen sank a 27-foot putt at the par-4 18th while Kisner’s was from 21 feet as both birdied three of the last five holes to fire four-under-par 67s at Quail Hollow in the year’s last major tournament.
“I felt like I was playing really well,” Olesen said. “Hit my driver well. Got myself in some really good positions. So that was the key, and obviously it was a really nice way to finish with that long putt on 18.”
Kisner, ranked 25th, won his second US PGA title in May at Colonial and grew up two hours from the course. Being familiar with the putting surface paid off with his first lead after any round of a major.
“It was really smooth,” Kisner said of his round. “If I keep it in the fairway, I’ll make birdies so that’s what I’ll try to do. I love these greens. I like the speed. It’s like what I grew up on.”
One stroke adrift were US Open winner Brooks Koepka and fellow Americans Gary Woodland, Grayson Murray, Chris Stroud and D.A. Points.
World number two Spieth, who won his third major title at last month’s British Open, struggled with his putter in firing a 72, joining McIlroy five strokes adrift.
“I can’t putt any worse than I did today,” Spieth said. “It was just the putter. Everything else was fine.”
Spieth, who also won the 2015 Masters and US Open, can become only the sixth man to sweep the four current major titles in a career after Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen.
At 24, he would become the youngest on the career Slam list by winning the Wanamaker Trophy this week, about six months younger than the mark held by Woods.
Fourth-ranked McIlroy, 28, could become only the third player to win five majors before turning 30, joining Nicklaus and Woods. He has two PGA titles and two US PGA triumphs at Quail Hollow.
“I’m only five behind,” McIlroy said. “it’s a tough golf course. I shoot something in the 60s tomorrow, move right up there.”
England’s Paul Casey and 10th-ranked American Rickie Fowler, whose first career PGA triumph was at Quail Hollow, were among seven on 69, Fowler thanks to six birdies that helped offset a triple bogey seven at the fifth hole.
World number one Dustin Johnson was in a pack on 70 that included Australia’s Jason Day, Spain’s Jon Rahm and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama. Johnson said putting was as tough as he has seen all season.
“It was tough to get the ball close to the hole,” he said. “I’m very pleased with that the way the course played.”
Olesen, 27, seeks his first major title. The 78th-ranked Dane took the most recent of four career European Tour victories last year in Turkey.
“I feel more confident with myself and my game than I probably did a few years ago,” he said. “I just have to stay relaxed the next few days.”
– ‘A little disappointing’ –
Spieth was in the early feature group with Koepka and the year’s other major winner, Spain’s Sergio Garcia, the Masters champion.
“It was a day that should have been a couple under par and ended one-over,” Spieth said. “It’s a little disappointing but I brought it back with a couple birdies to at least having a chance going forward.”
Dutchman Joost Luiten aced the 181-yard par-3 fourth hole with a 6-iron, the first hole-in-one at a PGA since South Africa’s Tim Clark in 2013.
Two players withdrew with injuries after poor first rounds, England’s Andrew “Beef” Johnston after a 78 with a shoulder issue and South Korean Kim Si-Woo after shooting 79, citing a sore back.
– ‘A good turnaround’ –
Day, who had four bogeys in the first 12 holes, rallied with two birdies and an eagle in the last five to finish on 70.
“It was a good turnaround,” Day said. “On the greens it’s very hard and very fast. If you don’t get yourself in position it’s hard to make par.”
Rahm, 22, sank 17-foot putts for birdie at the 14th and par-5 15th to reach 3-under, one off the lead, but stumbled back to 70 with bogeys at 16 and the par-3 17th in his PGA Championship debut.
“I’ve been looking forward to playing well in a major for a long time,” Rahm said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Among those in a struggle to make the cut are defending champion Jimmy Walker, 100th-major starters Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els and England’s Justin Rose.