JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Steve Stricker missed a 10-foot birdie putt at his final hole Thursday, failing to become the first player to shoot 62 in a major championship. But he had no complaints about settling for a 7-under score and the opening-round lead of the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club.
“I realized it was for 62 but didn’t realize it was for history,” Stricker said. “I hit a good putt. It just didn’t go in. All in all, a good day.”
Not for Tiger Woods, who returned to the major scene with a major thud.
Seemingly spending as much time in water and sand as he did on the exquisite grass, Woods staggered to a 77 — his worst round ever at the PGA Championship.
A 15th major title? Forget about it.
Woods will need a major turnaround just to make the cut.
Stricker showed it was possible to go low by keeping the ball in the fairway. He tore up the tough back nine with a 5-under 30 and played a bogey-free round, leaving him two shots ahead of Jerry Kelly among those with morning tee times. Scott Verplank is two shots behind Kelly after shooting 67.
It was the 11th time a player has shot 63 in the year’s final major, and the 25th time overall.
“I really had no expectations coming into today’s round,” the 44-year-old Stricker said. “I didn’t make too many birdies the first three days during the practice rounds. I got off to a good start, and it kind of got me going.”
Stricker has never won one of golf’s biggest championships — he’s 0-for-52 — and the Americans are mired in their longest major drought of the modern era.
It’s early, but maybe he’ll take care of both in one week.
Stricker amazingly made birdies at both the 15th — the longest par-3 on the course — and the 18th, a lengthy par-4 that has water hugging the left side of the fairway and guarding the front of the green.
The Americans sure need a boost. They haven’t won a major since Phil Mickelson triumphed at the 2010 Masters, coming up short at six in a row. During that span, Northern Ireland has captured three championships, South Africa two and Germany one.
Mickelson shot 71 in the opening round, with two birdies and three bogeys.
Stricker is the highest-ranked American in the world rankings, a spot that used to be controlled by Woods.
Woods fared better than Japanese star Ryo Ishikawa, thought to be a contender coming off a strong showing at Firestone last week.
The 19-year-old should’ve brought his swimsuit, putting six balls in the water and finishing with an 85 — pretty much assured of missing the cut before much of the field even got on the course.
Everyone raved about the condition of the 7,467-yard course in the sprawling suburbs northeast of Atlanta, which was the home club of Bobby Jones and had hosted three previous majors.
But a baffling mishap the evening before — mowers gone wild? — left two ugly patches in the 14th and 17th greens.
Apparently, a quick rise in the humidity caused the brushes on two movers to stick in the grass, ripping the impeccable greens. Head groundskeeper Ken Mangum had to bring in sod for a quick patch job and the PGA of America ruled that the affected areas would be treated as ground under repair, allowing golfers to move their ball if it landed there or they had to putt through it.
“We felt like our hearts had been ripped out,” Mangum said. “It’s a little bit like cutting yourself with a razor on your wedding day.”
He said the greens would be trimmed with hand mowers the rest of the week and it shouldn’t effect play.
“We’re still maintaining the same speed we had,” Mangum said.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.