LIV Tour golfer Bryson DeChambeau returned to the main stage Thursday with a solid performance that took him to a 4-under 66 at Oak Hill for an early lead at the PGA Championship.
DeChambeau kept the ball in play for most of the round and forced his way out of the rough field the few times he came out of position. He matched his low score in the PGA Championship and led it by one over Scotty Scheffler, Dustin Johnson and Corey Connors.
It is not yet decided if he will lead after the opening round. A 2-hour frost delay meant that 30 players didn’t finish due to darkness. They had to come back on Friday morning to finish. This included Bobby Cole, a 34-year-old PGA Tour rookie who was at five with four holes remaining.
“It’s a great round of golf at Oak Hill,” DeChambeau said. “It’s a prestigious place, and a really tough golf course. Since I’ve been looking at it all week, I’m like,
“Man, I don’t know how you can even shoot up to par here on some holes.” But fortunately, I was able to play some really good golf.
Bryson DeChambeau finished as the leading scorer after the first round of the PGA Championship
Fellow Leaf Tour golfer Dustin Johnson finished the first round tied for third as well
So did Johnson, a two-time major champ who is out of a playoff last week in Oklahoma at the Saudi-funded LIV golf tournament. Johnson moved from a bunker fairway to the deep rough left of the 18th green and missed a putt 15 feet deep by his only bogey.
“I didn’t have my best foot, but I felt he ran the golf course very well and took chances when I had,” said Johnson. “I made some crucial saves over there in the backhand side.”
Fairways covered with a thin layer of sleet gave way to fine weather with a light wind.
“Today was probably the easiest of conditions we’ll see all week,” said Scheffler, who capitalized on his first 51-round bogey-free card in the championship.
Golfers LIV in the PGA Championship
Harold Varner III
Masters champion John Rahm failed to capitalize, making five bogeys in a six-hole stretch around the turn and finishing with a 76, his highest start in a major tournament since the 2018 US Open. Jason Day, after winning at AT&T Byron Nelson, US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick was also 76.
Scheffler’s challenge at the front came as no surprise. Last year’s Masters champion had six victories in the last 15 months, and he finished no worse than 12th this year. Johnson has had a slow start to the year but he is starting to hit his stride. He won the LIV points list last year.
As for DeChambeau, he has practically disappeared from golf’s elite over the past year.
He injured his hip in early 2022, which he attributed to slipping on marble tiles while playing table tennis in Saudi Arabia. He underwent surgery on his left wrist after the Masters last year. Then he joined the Saudi-funded LIV Golf League, where his tying for fifth last week in Oklahoma was his top ten in six events this year.
The feelings have definitely fluctuated very high and very low, thinking I had something and failing and going back and forth. It’s humbling,” DeChambeau said. Golf and life always have a good way to kick you back for what you know when you’re on a high horse.
“It’s good to feel this day.”
His only big move came on his approach in the 17th minute from a rough out. She sailed right towards the 18th tee and fell into club pro Kenny Bigman, who shook it and then shook hands with an apologetic Dechambeau.
This is not a transformation so much as a restoration. His goal was no longer to create a new way to approach the game, but rather to find what brought him success when he won eight times in a three-year period, including the US Open title at Winged Foot.
Gone are the days when he would consume around 5,000 calories a day trying to build a body—he called it “amazing bulk”—that could tolerate swinging as hard as he could to beat the golf courses.
He started an inflammation-reducing diet (his daily caloric intake is estimated at 2,900) and tried to go back to 2018, when he felt his best.
“I want to be stable now,” he said. I’m tired of changing, trying different things. Yeah, can I hit her a little bit, can I try to get a little bit stronger? certainly. But I will not go in full force.
“It was a fun experience, but I definitely want to play good golf now,” he said.
Scheffler has been doing it all year, and the opening round of the PGA Championship was no exception. He made the stressful golf course look stress free, except for a few holes.
One was the second hole, the 11th of the round, when he crossed the green and faced a fearsome chip up a steep slope to a backpin. Descend up to 7 feet and save par. He also bowled out of position on the par-5, bunkering up and down for par.
“It was a grinding operation today,” Scheffler said. “No ghost is too strong.”
Liv’s Harold Varner III also finished strong enough to land in the top 20 scorers
For many others, Oak Hill was the grind they had expected. Jordan Spieth felt fit enough with his injured left wrist to pursue the final stage of a grand slam, only to wrestle with his position. Shot 73.
Rory McIlroy looked like he might be headed for another early exit from a major event. He was 3 after nine holes and in trouble at No. 2 when he was over the green at three, about 35 feet with a steep slope between him and the back pin.
Swinging his putter for an unlikely bonus, he made birdie on the next two holes and saved 71.
“It was huge,” McIlroy said. “Depending on what happens over the next three days and what I do, I might look back on that shot as the turning point of the week.”
Ram had a long way back. He was at age 1 completely under the batter until he started losing trails, in rough and deep shelters, and out of sight. Defending champion Justin Thomas and Masters runner-up Brooks Koepka were among those who turned 72.
Forecasts were for warmer weather and a little more wind. PGA Championship predictions also include DeChambeau.
“Golf is a strange animal. You can never have it fully. You always think you get it one day and then it’s gone the next. You just have to be careful,” Dechambeau said.