Canada’s Corey Conners outshined the big names on Thursday, the opening day of the PGA Championship, firing a 67 to go two clear of Brooks Koepka while Rory McIlroy is among the star names battling to make the cut.
English debutant, Sam Horsfield and former world number one Brooks Koepka were part of a six-strong chasing pack who sit two off Conner’s early pace in the 103rd US PGA Championship, with Rory McIlroy never recovering from an erratic first shot into the water
Rory McIlroy faltered on his return to Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course. He won the last time the event was staged at the South Carolina venue in 2012 but signed for a three-over 75.
Norway’s Viktor Hovland, Australia’s Cam Davis and Americans Keegan Bradley and Aaron Wise were also at three under.
Scotland’s Martin Laird, one of the early starters, held top spot heading to the 17th tee but carded successive bogeys and sits one further back.
Defending champion Collin Morikawa looked set to join the group on three under but bogeyed his final hole to also finish at two under on a breezy opening day.
Conners’ best major finish before this year was joint 64th at the 2019 PGA Championship, but he finished in a share of eighth at the Masters last month and now leads at Kiawah Island.
The world number 39 was three under through seven and he atoned for his only bogey of the day at nine with a birdie at 11 and then emerged from the group gathered at three under with successive birdies on the 15th and 16th holes.
Sam Horsfield who watched a birdie putt on the last lip out said: “To be playing well in a major is fun, it’s a new thing for me, to play against the best guys in the world is the best thing you can do.”
Alongside the Englishman is Koepka, who said before the tournament he was up to six months away from full fitness following surgery on 16 March to deal with a knee cap dislocation and ligament damage.
That appeared to ring true as the four-time major champion made a double-bogey start, but he immediately pulled one of those shots back and further birdies either side of a bogey saw the American hit the turn at level par.
The 2018 and 2019 winner added three birdies on his back nine to join 23-year-old Hovland, who canceled out an opening bogey with a birdie on the second before adding three more in a terrific round, in the early clubhouse lead.
Another former champion Bradley claimed his only major at the PGA Championship a decade ago and had just one bogey on a card that included four birdies as he signed for a 69.