CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jordan Spieth began his quest for the career Grand Slam by not making a putt longer than 5 feet. What helped was that Quail Hollow punished just about everyone at some point Thursday in the PGA Championship.
Kevin Kisner and Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark emerged as the top survivors on a course with some of the fastest, scariest putting surfaces the PGA Championship has ever seen. And both had to watch lengthy birdie putts creep into the cup on the 18th hole to share the lead at 4-under 67.
For all the talk about this 7,600-yard course favoring the big hitters, the shortest club in the bag turned out to be just as valuable.
“Any time you have a putt down grain, downhill ... we just tap it and hope it stops by the hole,” Jon Rahm said after a 70.
Spieth is among the best putters in golf, especially from long range. On consecutive holes, he ran long putts some 10 feet by the cup and made bogey. He saved his round with two late birdies for a 1-over 72 and still was just five shots behind.
The 24-year-old Texan would become the sixth, and youngest, player to complete the Grand Slam if he were to win the PGA Championship.
U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka led five players at 68. Koepka missed a half-dozen putts from 12 feet or closer, and while it looked as though he hit the ball well enough to go low at Quail Hollow, he wasn’t the least bit frustrated.
“It’s going to test your patience one way or another,” Koepka said. “You’ve got to stay patient. You can’t make doubles out here. That’s the big thing. Make sure the worst score you make is a bogey and give yourself a couple of good chances on the easier holes.”
That’s the way Kisner approached it.
It helps that he grew up in the South and loves Bermuda greens. Given the size of Quail Hollow, Kisner drew up a simple plan. He identified four or five holes where he could make birdie, and he played for par everywhere else.
“I birdied them all today,” Kisner said. “Make a lot of pars, and get to a par 5 or one of those short par 4s, I can do my wedge game and get it to 10 or 12 feet. That’s my plan. Other than that, I’m playing for par.”
The 18th was not one of the birdie holes he had in mind, especially with his ball nestled in the Bermuda rough 205 yards from the pin. Kisner thought the grass was thin enough behind the ball to get a 5-iron on it, and from there it was a matter of judging how much it would bounce. It ran up to the green about 20 feet away, and he used that rhythmic putting stroke to trickle it into the cup.
Olesen picked up birdies on most of the same holes, and he finished with a 30-foot birdie that also sounded like an accident.
“It was a little bit of a safe shot into the green,” he said. “That’s what can happen on this golf course. When you play safe into the greens, you give yourself very tricky putts, like the one I had — downhill, left-to-right. It was very, very fast. But it was just a very good roll. So it was nice to see that one drop.”
Rickie Fowler made plenty of birdies, and he needed them to offset his triple bogey on No. 6.
Hideki Matsuyama, Dustin Johnson and Jason Day were among those at 1-under 70.
Madison resident Steve Stricker recorded four bogeys and did not have a birdie en route to shooting 75. He’s tied for 80th place.
Quail Hollow played to an average score of 74.7, making the PGA Championship look like the toughest test of the year in the majors.