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Forty four year old American Steve Stricker missed a birdie putt on the final hole which would have given him the lowest ever round in a major championship, the holy grail of professional golf, a 62. Stricker is not the first to narrowly miss the milestone and won't be the last, however, as he would happily admit later on, a 63 on the opening day of the PGA Championship in Atlanta is pretty darn good!
Stricker began on the back nine with three consecutive birdies and picked up four more on the 15th, 18th, 1st and 5th holes to fire a 7-under 63 at the par 70 Atlanta Athletic Club. His 63 was the 25th recorded in Major history. The first four spots on the leaderboard all belonged to Americans as the host nation attempts to avoid a repeat of 1994, the only year since World War I that no American won a Major in a calendar year. Stricker takes a 2-stroke lead into the second round from another 44-year old Jerry Kelly, who in turn is 1 ahead of 2003 champion, 42-year old Shaun Micheel. Continuing the senior charge at the Open is 47-year old Scott Verplank at 3-under par.
There is an 8-man traffic jam in the tie for 5th that includes 18-year old Italian sensation Matteo Manassero, Englishman Simon Dyson and American Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, a PGA Championship winner way back in 1997.
World no.1 Luke Donald produced 4 birdies, 2 bogeys and a double bogey to end the day on even par, a position he shares with US Open Champion Rory McIlroy. The 22-year old Northern Irishman injured his hand when he hit his club onto a tree root on the third hole, but played through the pain to escape the day still in contention. Rory though is scheduled to have an MRI later in the day and will take a decision accordingly whether to continue at the Championship.
2005 Champion American Phil Mickelson was in a high profile group which finished the day at 1-over. He was joined in a tie for 36th place by Lee Westwood, 2009 Champion YE Yang, Masters winner Charl Schwartzel among others. It was also a disappointing day for 2008 winner Padraig Harrington, who carded a round of 3-over and is in danger of missing the cut. Last year's US Open champion Graeme McDowell is a further stroke back.
However, the most alarming names are near the foot of the leaderboard as the returning 14-time Major winner Tiger Woods, reigning US Open champion Darren Clarke, 2009 US Open winner Lucas Glover and teenage Japanese star Ryo Ishikawa had exceptionally poor outings.
Tiger Woods started on the back nine and was 3-under heading to 15th where he found the water hazard en route to a double bogey. The 4-time US PGA Champion found himself back on even par after a bogey on the 16th and then went on to drop a further 7 shots on the next 11 holes. He ended the day with 3 double bogeys and 5 bogeys for a 77, his worst opening round ever in a Major. Woods is in serious danger of missing the cut at the weekend and finds himself a ridiculous 14 shots behind the leader.
Amazingly, the winner of the last major, Northern Irishman Darren Clarke did even worse, to end the day at 8-over, a position he shares with India's Arjun Atwal. Lucas Glover is a further 2 strokes back at 10-over, while Ishikawa is 155th and last at 15-over par.
Select First round leaderboard (par 70)
-7: S Stricker (US)
-5: J Kelly (US)
-4: S Micheel (US)
-3: S Verplank (US)
-2: B de Jonge (RSA), M Manassero (Ita), D Love (US), J Senden (Aus), B Haas (US), B Jobe (US), A Hansen (Den), S Dyson (Eng)
-1: A Scott (Aus), B Davis (Eng), S Cink (US), MA Jimenez (ESP), T Immelman (RSA), R Barnes (US)
E: R McIlroy (NI), L Donald (Eng)
+1: P Mickelson (US), R Fisher (Eng), J Rose (Eng), L Westwood (Eng), YE Yang (KOR), C Schwartzel (RSA), J Day (Aus), M Kuchar (US), Z Johnson (US)
+2: P Casey (Eng) +3: P Harrington (Ire), M Laird (Sco)
+4: B Watson (US), I Poulter (Eng), S Gallacher (Sco), E Els (SA), R Fowler (US), G McDowell (NI)
+7: T Woods (US)
+8: D Clarke (NI), A Atwal (Ind)
+10: L Glover (US)
+15: R Ishikawa (Jpn)
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