Through nine holes early Thursday morning, Topeka native Gary Woodland was alone at the top of a major tournament leaderboard. By the end of the day, his 3-under 68 was good enough for a share of third place amid the opening round of the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow.
“I drove the ball very well today and got off to a good start,” Woodland said. “I gave myself a lot of chances and I’m very happy with where I’m at.”
The University of Kansas product finished with four birdies and only one bogey, which came on the par-4 16th after Woodland failed to get up-and-down from behind a greenside bunker. His nine of 14 fairways hit in regulation was among the best among finishers at the top of Thursday’s leaderboard, and he needed only 25 putts to get through the round.
Woodland sank a nine-foot putt to notch his first birdie on the par-4 second hole before draining a 23-footer for birdie on the par-3 sixth. He also birdied the par-5 seventh to hold a one-stroke lead over Englishman Paul Casey at the turn.
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Woodland trailed only Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark (4-under) through the first half of the tournament’s 156-player field to finish their opening rounds.
“It wasn’t surprising considering how I’ve played at this course in the past,” Woodland said when asked if he expected to see his name at the top of the leaderboard after nine holes. He has finished in the top 25 each of his last three PGA tournaments played at Quail Hollow from 2013 to 2015.
And with nearly 200 yards added to the now-7,588 yard mammoth of a course since its last PGA Tour event, Woodland said the updated course was tailor-made for his game.
“I’m hitting driver more than I ever do,” he said. “It’s a longer golf course and it’s almost like they did it for me.”
While driving has been a strength for Woodland this season, the he credited his improved performance on the greens Thursday to recent practice with fellow pros Steve Stricker and Brad Faxon.
While Faxon is a long-time friend, Woodland said he recently spent time doing drills with Stricker to prepare for the firm greens at this week’s championship.
“I talked to two of the greats and I picked up some things, definitely,” he said. “To see a couple puts go in early today, I was happy.”
Woodland spoke briefly about his family’s well-publicized struggle with the health of their newborn child Jaxson, and said the two-month old was still hospitalized until earlier this month.
He said the challenges related to his child’s birth has made this year “the hardest of my life,” but helped “keep things in perspective” on the golf course.