Cole, DeChambeau set the early pace at Oak Hill
May 18, 2023
ROCHESTER, N.Y. – There is a little less of Bryson DeChambeau than there was a couple of years ago when he was chasing majors, but he still has a thirst for the big moment. He proved as much on Thursday in the opening round of the 105th PGA Championship.
On a rugged day when Oak Hill Country Club was pushing around many of the game’s top players, DeChambeau produced a gem, shooting 4-under 66 to take the clubhouse lead in a first round delayed nearly two hours by morning frost.
PGA Tour rookie Eric Cole sits atop the leaderboard, but still has four holes to play when play resumes at 7 a.m. on Friday morning. Thirty of 156 players were unable to complete the round. Cole, a playoff runner-up at the Honda Classic earlier this season, made six birdies in the 14 holes that he completed. He faces 180 yards in for his second shot at the difficult par-4 sixth when he resumes his round.
What was it like for him to see his name on top of the board in his first PGA Championship?
“It's nice. I like it a lot,” said Cole, the son of former PGA Tour pro Bobby Cole and LPGA player Laura Baugh. “Whenever you play, you want to compete to win. That's the spot I like to see my name at, and hopefully it is there more often.”
DeChambeau said he actually surprised himself at Oak Hill, both by driving the golf ball so straight (9 of 14 fairways) and by making six birdies on a day when pars were pleasing enough.
DeChambeau, 29, the 2020 U.S. Open champion downstate at Winged Foot now competing on the LIV Tour, birdied four of his final nine holes – shooting 3-under 33 on the front, his second nine – to build a one-shot edge over World No. 2 Scottie Scheffler, the 2022 Masters champion, and Canadian Corey Conners. Temperatures would warm into the mid-60s as the day wore on, but the early delay meant the second round would not be completed until Friday morning.
“It’s a fantastic round of Oak Hill,” DeChambeau said. “It’s a prestigious place. Very difficult golf course. As I was looking throughout the week, I’m like, ‘Man, I don’t know how shooting under par is even possible out here on some of the golf holes.”
He found a way. DeChambeau, one of the game’s most prodigious hitters, trimmed down to 210-215 pounds, giving up some of his favorite foods – corn, wheat, gluten, dairy – after he discovered the things he was eating were causing inflammation in his body. In a 24-day stretch last summer, he dropped 18 pounds. (“It was crazy,” he said.)
He worked his way back from an injured hand and he said he finally figured out his golf swing.
“I’ve struggled with my driving,” said DeChambeau, who was first in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green Thursday, gaining more than two shots on the field. (He averaged 347 yards on the two measured driving holes.) “You see me out there on the range. That’s something I don’t want to do. I don’t want to be out there all night.”
Scottie Scheffler followed a simple and steady path to his opening round of 67 at Oak Hill. He thought he’d secured 66 with a birdie putt on his final green, but it grazed the edge of the hole and stayed out. Scheffler has not finished out of the top 12 in a Tour event since October, counting a pair of victories in that stretch. His first round may not have been entirely stress-free, but it was bogey-free, the first time the 2022 Masters champion had done that in a round at a major.
“Today was probably the easiest conditions we'll see all week with the golf course,” Scheffler said. “So getting around with no bogeys was really good. I mean, that's pretty much how I shot 3-under. There's not really many birdie opportunities out there.”
New Zealand’s Ryan Fox, Viktor Hovland and past PGA champion Keegan Bradley were among those players able to post 68 before play was suspended by darkness.
Bradley, 36, won the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club in 2011, which, he says, seems as if it was some other lifetime ago. This week has brought a new appreciation for what he did in becoming a major champion in the game. Thursday, he saw the Wanamaker Trophy on a stand after making the turn and heading to the first tee. Bradley said he never touches trophies that don’t belong to him, but this one still does as a former champion, and he gave it a little bump.
He said when he watches highlights of his 2011 triumph at AAC, his palms still get sweaty. When he got announced before hitting his opening tee shot at No. 10 on Thursday, Bradley said he got a little lump in his throat.
“I haven’t felt that, really,” Bradley said. “As I get older and play on the (PGA) Tour for a long time, I realize how special it is to win one of these. I don’t know, this week has felt a little different for me.”
His 3-under 67 was inspiring to him, even if it had more ups and downs than a stock reading. There were times he struggled to make pars – bogeys at two of his final three holes, for instance – but he also mixed in seven birdies in a round in which Oak Hill was not generous in handing them out.
“I was hitting a lot of great iron shots, and I putted great today,” said Bradley, who made more than 134 feet in putts, including a 50-footer at 18, his ninth hole. “It’s so fun, especially in majors, to putt that way and feel like you’re going to make a ton of putts. I mean, the greens are absolutely perfect.”