Golf Digest and several other media outlets have ranked The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort the toughest golf course in the United States. The wind usually whips in every direction, but during the first round of the PGA Championship on Thursday morning, the world's best golfers took advantage of an absent wind and softer conditions to turn in some low scores.
Swden's Carl Pettersson posted the lowest score of the day, a 6-under 66. At one point during the first round, the leaderboard showed Joost Luiten of the Netherlands on top at 8-under par. For a few holes it looked as if Luiten might challenge the course record held by Alex Cejka of Germany. Cejka posted a 9-under-par 63 in the 1997 World Cup.
"Obviously getting off to a good start was the key to the round," Pettersson said. "I birdied 1,2 and 4, so I was 3-under early. There really wasn't much wind on the front nine, so I knew I had to keep going low because I figured the wind would get up."
Several players made reference to little or no wind Thursday, a rare luxury at The Ocean Course.
"Hitting balls on the range this morning there was completely no wind," McIlroy said. "It was flat calm and I really thought I had to take advantage of the conditions."
McIlroy enjoyed a bogey-free round and finished tied for second with a 5-under 67.
"I'm expecting this to be the best day of the week," McIlroy said. "I think everyone is. We know there's going to be a bit of wind coming in and maybe a bit of bad weather."
While others enjoyed some time on the course without much wind, defending PGA Champion Keegan Bradley welcomed the ocean breeze.
"I'm so happy it started blowing because it was so hot this morning," Bradley said. "The 14th tee was one of the hottest moments in my life. This is a nice little wind though for the guys."
Thursday morning's weather was perfect compared to morning conditions during the first three practice rounds. Rain and storms flooded parts of the course and suspended play several times. On Thursday, there was plenty of sun, but the course was still a bit soft because the rain earlier in the week.
"It's relatively soft because of the rain," Bradley said. "But you know, it's very playable if you hit the ball well. If you hit the ball in the fairway you can make a lot of birdies. If you don't, you're going to struggle. You've got to play these par 3's the best you can, and I did that today."
John Daly, who is coming off a fifth-place finish at last week's Reno-Tahoe Open, shot 4-under 68 on The Ocean Course. Still, he says the course is not easy and the par 3's are especially tough.
"It's playing fair," Daly said. "Thirteen is tough. Seventeen is just 17. But 14, it's just a tough hole. I mean, it's impossible to hit a 3-iron on there."
The Ocean Course is the longest course to host the PGA Championship at a total of 7,676 yards.
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