PGA Championship 2014: Biggest Surprises from Day 1 at Valhalla
Day 1 at the 96th PGA Championship saw many of the familiar names post low scores, yet there’s an even larger contingent of relative unknowns who sit near or at the top of the leaderboard.
Valhalla Golf Club was set up for the big hitters to carve it up. The greens ran true with many players bombing putts from outside the realm of reason.
Maybe the biggest surprise of Day 1 (a bleed-over from Wednesday) was the presence of Tiger Woods. He performed about as well as most people predicted and finished the day with nothing but a little tightness in his back.
The stage is set for three competitive rounds of golf. Read on for the surprises from Day 1—a table-setting day if ever there was one.
Matt Kuchar and Jason Dufner Withdraw
Tiger Woods led the list of players most likely to withdraw from the PGA Championship given his misstep at the Bridgestone Invitational, but instead, two other U.S. players with problems to their central nervous system got scratched after starting the day.
Matt Kuchar was the earliest withdrawal, citing back spasms. Kuchar, while not a household name, is ranked No. 6 in the world. His withdrawal may be more serious than it seems. Golfweek's Jim McCabe and Alex Miceli wrote:
It’s just the third WD of Kuchar’s PGA Tour career and the first since he had to stop playing after 36 holes of the 2010 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. It was notable, too, because Kuchar, 36, is one of the Tour’s most consistent performers; he had played 72 holes in seven consecutive majors, not having missed a cut since the 2012 PGA at Kiawah Island.
Simply put, Kuchar endures tournaments, so this could be the sign of something more serious.
On top of that, Jason Dufner, last year’s PGA Championship winner, withdrew due to not one but two pains in the neck that turned out to be bulging discs. Not good.
“I'm probably not going to be healthy until I can take six to eight weeks off," said Dufner to Kyle Porter of CBSSports.com. “Not sure when that's going to be. But I'll get through it.”
And Porter said it best: “Viva the Ryder Cup!”
Dufner is out. Woods and Kuchar could be out.
The Ryder Cup is dead! Long live the Ryder Cup?
Adam Scott Posts Lackluster Even Number
Adam Scott has the unfortunate title of “World’s Former No. 1 Player.” He earned that moniker thanks to three straight bogeys on the back nine at the Bridgestone Invitational, while Rory McIlroy galloped home a winner.
Scott has conceded that McIlroy, for the time, is a deserving No. 1. Still, in his gut, he wants to seize it back, and to do so, he’ll have to beat McIlroy head-to-head.
“I think the right guy is at No. 1 at the moment," Scott said on ABC.net. “He's played the best over the past couple of months. The way I like to see the rankings work is the guy who is winning the most tournaments should be the No. 1 player.”
Scott’s driving accuracy was a chilly 35.71 percent, and his strokes gained putting was minus-0.424.
That could be a sign of a player trying too hard to reclaim what he lost. Finishing the day at even par when there were a lot of red numbers out there is big disappointment on Day 1.
It's not completely lost for Scott. He can still take advantage of the scoring opportunities and hope for McIlroy's Friday woes to haunt him. That's wishful thinking, but it's always there for McIlroy, and Scott could use the help.
Angel Cabrera Goes Big and May Go Home
Normally, when you say a player didn’t shoot 70 on the day, it means he’s well under par in the 60s. Not so with Angel Cabrera, a two-time major winner, who shot 82 on Day 1 at Valhalla.
He drove the ball exceptionally well on the day (71.43 percent of fairways) and was bombing off the tee (304.5 yards per drive), but his putting was abhorrent.
His strokes gained putting was minus-2.508. On not one but two occasions, Cabrera experienced back-to-back double bogeys. He balanced it nicely. He doubled No. 2 and 3 and then doubled No. 12 and 13.
Cabrera was plus-seven on the back nine en route to an 11-over Day 1. He has one more day of major golf in him this season at this rate.
Who Are Those Players in the Top 11?
You’ve heard of “It’s a who’s who atop the leaderboard.”
What’s the opposite of that? “It’s a who’s not who atop the leaderboard?” No matter.
Here are three names in the top 10 of Day 1 that are about as obscure as traveling garden gnomes: Mikko Ilonen (-4), Joost Luiten (-3) and Ryan Palmer (-6).
Luiten spends most of his time on the European Tour, and even over there he hasn’t fared too well in 2014. His best finish was third in the Lyoness Open. He was T56 last weekend at the Bridgestone Invitational, T151 in The Open Championship, T68 at the U.S. Open and T26 at the Masters.
Ilonen was T66 in the Bridgestone and T89 in The Open.
Palmer, an American, is 63rd in the world, but he does have two seconds on the PGA Tour and five top 10s.
Will they hold on? As it stands, these three are ahead of some very good golfers, and the scoring conditions are supposed to improve Friday with the forecast of rain pouring down. They stand to keep making a push possibly into double-digit reds.
Tom Watson, at One-Over, Ahead of Tiger Woods, Keegan Bradley and Others
Name another sport where a 64-year-old man can not only hang but compete with players 30 years younger than he is. Curling? Bowling?
Tom Watson, the American Ryder Cup captain, out-lasted Kuchar and Dufner, two Americans who would likely have made his Ryder Cup team. (Kuchar withdrew with back spasms, so there's still a chance Team USA will have him. Dufner is out.)
Watson finished the day at one-over, two strokes ahead of Woods, three ahead of Thomas Bjorn (the No. 3 player on the European Tour) and one ahead of both Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell.
It has to be unsettling for Watson to be outplaying guys who will be on his team. There's a good chance Watson will make the cut and play over the weekend. As it stands, even on this long course, he may even make the cut over Woods. And that's not the vote of confidence Woods wants if he wishes to be a captain's selection.