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PGA Championship 2021: Corey Conners Leads After Carding Opening-Round 67

Tyler Conway@@jtylerconwayFeatured Columnist IVMay 21, 2021

Corey Conners, of Canada, fist bumps his caddie after a putt on the 17th hole during the first round of the PGA Championship golf tournament on the Ocean Course Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Kiawah Island, S.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
AP Photo/Chris Carlson

The 2021 season has already been the best of Corey Conners' career.

After one round of the 2021 PGA Championship, it appears he's ready to evolve further.

Conners carded a five-under 67 to take a two-stroke lead over the field after a tough day for the world's top golfers at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina. The 29-year-old produced a steady round of six birdies against only one bogey, excelling with some brilliant work on the greens.

The PGA's strokes-gained metric estimated Conners gained 3.7 strokes on the green Thursday.

"I think there's nothing that I want to do differently. I didn't really make any mistakes out there. I played solid all through the bag like you said. A lot of good putts. Drove it well, ironed it well and got up-and-down a couple times really nicely," Conners told reporters after the round. 

PGA Championship @PGAChampionship

Boom πŸ’₯<br><br>Corey Conners sinks the long birdie to take the solo lead at -4.#PGAChamp pic.twitter.com/XPww5OoNSI

Conners has won only once on the PGA Tour, at the 2019 Valero Texas Open, but shot up to a career-best No. 37 in the world after a series of strong outings this year. 

A group of six golfers, highlighted by Keegan Bradley and Brooks Koepka, are tied for second at three under. Koepka could have held a share of the lead if it weren't for an ugly double bogey on No. 10, but the former world No. 1 came away encouraged with his round.

β€œI love it when it’s difficult,” Koepka told reporters. β€œI think that’s why I do so well in the majors. I just know mentally I can grind it out. Like when it’s windy like this, it’s not so much putting, it’s more about ball striking. I felt like I struck it really well today.”

A two-time winner of the PGA Championship, Koepka has seen his last year-plus derailed by injuries. Hip and knee issues cost him most of 2020, and he's played in only two tournaments since March knee surgery, being cut both times.

Already one of the toughest courses on the PGA Tour, the Kiawah Island Ocean Course frustrated golfers with high winds. Bryson DeChambeau, who carded an even-par 72, told reporters the wind "kicked [his] butt" as he struggled to keep himself in contention. DeChambeau had five birdies against five bogeys, including a stretch of four straight over-par scores from Nos. 13 to 16.

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson will play Friday to simply make the weekend after shooting a four-over 76. Johnson made only one birdie his entire round to go along with two doubles and a bogey. His irons and putter were the main culprit of his poor round, with Johnson losing 0.3 strokes on the short grass and making only 55.6 percent of his greens in regulation.

World No. 2 Justin Thomas will likewise be facing a potential cut line after shooting a three-over 75. He is tied with Rory McIlroy, Webb Simpson and Harris English among a large contingent in a tie for 77th place.

None of the world's Top Five golfers shot below par Thursday. DeChambeau and Jon Rahm, both at even par, were tied for the best among the group.

Among the notables who fared better are Phil Mickelson (-2), Collin Morikawa (-2) and Rickie Fowler (-1).