Gary Woodland snatched the Round 1 lead Thursday at the PGA Championship with a flurry of late birdies at Bellerive Country Club.
Woodland, who posted a 6-under 64 to better Rickie Fowler by one shot, birdied seven of his last 11 holes to take the early lead.
“I probably pressed a little bit too much early,” Woodland said after his round. “I’ve been hitting the golf ball beautifully coming into this week, close to home, I have a million friends and family out here, which is pretty cool, but so I was probably off pressing a little bit and I kind of settled in there really on 5 and outside of that I hit the golf ball beautifully.”
Though Woodland won the day, he understands there’s a lot of golf left to play this week. Major championships have not been kind to Woodland, who has never even contended in one.
“I think a lot of it is pressing. I’ve set my schedule the last couple years to gear up for the Majors,” Woodland said. “This year I thought going in the golf courses suited me as well as any year lately and I just still got nothing. I thought Shinnecock would be good for me, I — Carnoustie, I had never been, but I hear it was a ball striking paradise. I played well over there, just had no, nothing great.
“This week is close to home as I’ve been. I snuck over here about a month ago and played and saw the golf course. Really enjoyed the layout. The turf’s very similar to me, very familiar to me. We don’t play on Zoysia very often. It’s so hot here during the summer so the greens are soft and slow, you can be more aggressive, which suits my game.
“But definitely in the Majors it’s frustrating. The record of mine I don’t even have a top-10, I think 12th is the best I’ve ever finished, which is frustrating because I feel like where I am and where I should be is not results that I have had.”
Woodland said he thinks the first couple holes at Bellerive are among the most important. Though short, they have plenty of bite to make the world’s best stay on their toes.
“Obviously the par-5s are big. There’s just a couple holes you can let kill you. One and 2 are holes that seem pretty easy, but you got to drive the ball in the fairway. If you do, you can attack,” Woodland said. “It’s nice to get off to a good start, I didn’t do that today, I hit it in the rough on those holes — but if you do that you can attack those holes and make some birdies early in the day because 4, 5, 6, 7, are brutal holes.
“Long par-3 around water there, what is that, 6, I think. Five is as hard a hole you’re going to see. You got to drive the ball in the fairway there. So you got some really good holes there, 4, 5, 6 I would say are a big stretch because then you got a par 5 coming up on 8 or, yeah, 8, 7’s a shorter hole. And then if you get through 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, those are holes you can definitely attack because then you got a big stretch coming in after that.”
With the Ryder Cup approaching this fall, and Woodland in desperate need of points to make an impression on captain Jim Furyk, he thinks this is an important week for his Ryder Cup hopes.
“I definitely think there’s still room (to make a move),” Woodland said. “That’s been as frustrating as my major record. I’ve been in the fitting I think for the last seven years for all the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup’s fittings. I tried all the clothes on, I’ve seen them all and I’ve just never had a chance to make the team. Last year I think was probably as close as I made and that’s frustrating.”
Putting will be key this week for Woodland, who has struggled with the short stick at times throughout his career. But he made a staggering 153 feet of putts on Thursday.
“I mean, that’s a lot. It’s nice. Like I said, it’s nice just to see the results,” Woodland said. “You work so hard and you want to see results to back up the work that you’ve done and today was just a step in the right direction.”
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