Lucas Glover and Chris Riley of the USA upstaged their more famous rivals on the opening day of the 88th USPGA Championship at Medinah yesterday, carding opening rounds of 66 to leave themselves at six-under-par and heading the stongest field of the season.
Like many of their countrymen Glover and Riley are looking secure their places on the US team for next month’s Ryder Cup match against Europe, and their impressive early form at the season’s final Major tournament will have done their chances no harm whatsoever.
Glover is currently lying in 14th position in the US rankings but has never made a cut in a Major championship before, and he admitted after the opening day that his thoughts over the last few months have been dominated by the Ryder Cup. He fired eight birdies in his round of 66, including three over the last four holes, and his aim now is to try and relax for the rest of the tournament.
“I’ve been thinking about making the team every day, every minute, every second for the last six months,” the 26 year-old from South Carolina said.
“I’ve decided to put that behind me this week and try to just play golf, have fun and not worry about it. I think I did that today and I played well – especially on the greens. If I can carry on doing it then the Ryder Cup will take care of itself.”
Riley was a member of the losing 2004 US Ryder Cup team but has been struggling for form this year with only two finishes in the top-25 from eighteen starts. A win at the USPGA on Sunday would catapult him into contention for a place on Lehman’s team and his opening round contained seven birdies – including one on all of the par-5s.
One stroke behind the American duo is their compatriot Billy Andrade on -5. The veteran pro only sealed his place in the event on Tuesday following the withdrawal of 1995 champion Steve Elkington, and his opening round of 67 was a welcome surprise for the man from Rhode Island.
A host of big name players are bunched together on -4 and -3, and the most notable of these are Illinois-based Englishman Luke Donald (-4), US Ryder Cup probable JJ Henry (-4), Sweden’s Henrik Stenson (-4), Davis Love III (-4), Sergio Garcia (-3), defending champion Phil Mickelson (-3), Tiger Woods (-3) and US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy (-3).
Woods, Mickelson and Ogilvy were grouped together as this season’s Major winners, and although none of them played their best golf yesterday they are very handily placed as they each attempt to win their second Major of 2006. Woods started with a bogey on the first but fought back admirably, while after a good start Mickelson began to struggle off the tee.
“We played OK but both of us had chances to go lower,” Mickelson said of himself and his great rival Woods.
“All of us, Geoff (Ogilvy) included, missed a few shots but we managed to fight our way round and we could be in far worse positions than we find ourselves in after round one.”
Donald will have been buoyed by his impressive opening round of 68, despite a bogey on the last hole. In the other three Majors of the season the 28 year-old has started very poorly and he will be hopeful of securing the first Major of his career in his adopted home state. Donald is able to stay in his home this week, which is only a 40 minute drive from Medinah, and has predicted that home comforts could make a real difference to his challenge for the Wanamaker Trophy.
The story of the day though must be that of Love, who is trying to secure his eighth consecutive US Ryder Cup appearance via automatic qualification (he currently lies 15th in the rankings) or by impressing Lehman into picking him as a wildcard. He roared to the turn in 30 strokes and was seven-under-par after 14 holes – giving him a brief one stroke lead over the whole field. A triple-bogey six on the par-3 17th brought him and his fans back down to earth, however, leaving him on -4 after a 68 and two stokes behind Glover and Riley.
“I hit a lot of good shots today other than two swings,” a disappointed Love said on completing his round.
“It was just one of those really bad lies on the 17th and I tried to be too cute with it. But 68 is a good start and I was pleased enough with my general play.”
The main European disappointements of the opening day were poor rounds by Padraig Harrington (75) and Colin Montogomerie (77). Both men have work to do to make the halfway cut when the second round begins at 13:00 BST this afternoon.