By Steve Keating
ROCHESTER, New York (Reuters) – Eric Cole, still chasing a first career win, charged to the top of the PGA Championship first round leaderboard ahead of a pack of major winners on Thursday before play was halted due to darkness, bringing the curtain down on a wild day at Oak Hill.
Starting on the back nine, the PGA Tour rookie mixed six birdies with a bogey to reach five-under par with four holes to play. Former U.S. Open winner Bryson DeChambeau holds the overnight clubhouse lead after carding a four-under 66.
Lurking a shot further back on three-under are a pair of Masters winners in world number two Scottie Scheffler and LIV Golf hope Dustin Johnson, along with Canadian Corey Conners.
“It was a good day, five-under through the holes that I played was good,” said Cole. “I played solid for the most part and got a couple of good breaks when I needed them, so it was a good day.”
From scores to temperatures it was a day of highs and lows as a treacherous East Course bared its teeth with only 19 in the 156 player field getting under par.
An overnight frost delayed the start of play by nearly two hours, with golfers and spectators bundled up in wool hats, gloves and winter coats as action finally got underway.
By mid-morning the freezing temperatures and frost had given way to sunny skies before an evening chill arrived with 33 golfers still on the course.
World number one Jon Rahm wrestled with the gnarly rough and crater-like bunkers, the Masters champion slumping to a six-over 76 to leave him 11 shots off the pace.
Rahm, who has made the cut at each of the last 14 major championships, the longest current streak of its kind, was undone by an ugly six-hole stretch around the turn that included five bogeys.
“Couldn’t find the fairway and the fairways that I missed cost me bogeys,” said Rahm.
The Spaniard was not alone.
U.S. Open champion Matthew Fitzpatrick also had a 76, as did Australian Jason Day, the 2015 PGA Championship winner who arrived at Oak Hill riding the momentum from his Byron Nelson victory on Sunday.
But at least they avoided being waist-deep in mud like Tom Kim, who waded into a swamp in search of his ball only to get stuck.
The South Korean eventually managed to crawl out before washing himself off in a nearby creek and finishing with a three-over 73.
DeChambeau, who missed last year’s PGA Championship as he was recovering from surgery on his left hand, started on the back nine and reached the turn at one under.
From there he went bogey-free and added three birdies to put a LIV Golf member top of the leaderboard.
Scheffler also began on the back nine and reached the turn at one-under before adding birdies at the par-three fifth and the par-four eighth, where his approach shot settled three feet from the cup, en route to his first bogey-free round in a major.
“It was a grind today,” said Scheffler. “The golf course is very tough. And I think these are probably the easiest conditions we are going to have all week.”
World number three Rory McIlroy, who missed the cut at last month’s Masters, got off to a slow start and reached the turn at three-over but steadied the ship coming home and finished his day with a one-over 71.
“Messy,” McIlroy said of his round. “Didn’t hit the ball well at all. Thought I did really well to shoot one-over in the end … but I am going to need to play a lot better than that if I want to feature in this tournament.”
Brooks Koepka, who finished joint runner-up at the Masters, opened with a 72 while Jordan Spieth, making his seventh attempt at completing the coveted career Grand Slam of golf’s four majors, shot a 73.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Rochester and Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Ken Ferris, Toby Davis, Peter Rutherford)