After more than a year without a major championship due to the coronavirus pandemic, the golf world takes center stage this week with the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.
Here’s the latest from the first round at TPC Harding Park and the 2020 PGA Championship. This article will be updated frequently as play gets underway.
Thursday’s PGA Championship quick links
— Leaderboard: Day out in front early
— Expert picks: Koepka, Xander have our votes
— Tee times: See when Tiger plays Round 2
— Koepka opens strong after swing change
— Get to know the course: TPC Harding Park
Brendon Todd matches Jason Day’s 65
No one in the afternoon wave managed to match Jason Day’s 5-under 65 at TPC Harding Park until the very end, when Brendon Todd made three birdies on his second nine to match Day at the top of the leaderboard.
The 35-year-old has already won twice this season on the PGA Tour, and has three career victories overall.
Bryson DeChambeau broke his driver
For anyone else, this might not be a big deal, but for DeChambeau, it is. The Cobra driver he’s been using recently is a 5.5 degree SpeedZone specially designed for his ridiculously fast swing. It’s all been a part of a changed golfer at the top of his game. Well, for a few brief moments Thursday, DeChambeau’s driver was snapped.
After hitting his tee shot on the par-4 7th, DeChambeau leaned down to pick up his tee, putting pressure on the head of the club. It didn’t take much, as the little weight he put on the club broke the shaft near the clubhead. “It was bound to break,” DeChambeau said on the broadcast. “I’d been using it a long time.”
Luckily for him, a local rule that went into place in 2019 allows DeChambeau to replace his club during competition after it had broke. It was an uneventful front nine for him besides that. DeChambeau turned to the back in 32.
Tiger Woods begins 2020 PGA Championship with solid opening round
Tiger Woods, in just his second start since February, is in good position after the opening round of the 2020 PGA Championship. Woods opened with a two-under 68 on Thursday at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, putting him three off the early wave lead with the afternoon session preparing to tee off.
Woods, grouped with Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas, started on the back and turned in one-under 34, then fell back to even with a bogey on the par-4 2nd, his 11th hole. After a par on 3, he went on a run and made birdies on 4, 5 and 7, before bogeying the 8th. A par on the 9th was good for a 68 and his first under-par opening round in a major in six years.
“I felt good,” Woods said later. “When I played the Memorial, I got into the round quickly, so that was a positive. I was able to do that again here.” When Woods finished he was T18. McIlroy shot 70, and Thomas shot 71.
Jason Day grabs early lead with bogey-free 65
Jason Day had a five-birdie, no-bogey opening round to grab the early clubhouse lead at the 2020 PGA Championship.
Day, the 2015 PGA winner at Whistling Straits, started on the back nine and shot two under, then added birdies on 1, 4 and 9 on the front side to sign for a five-under 65.
“There was definitely a lot of momentum coming in off the previous finishes that I’ve had, three top 10s, which has been nice,” Day said afterward. “The game feels like it’s coming around. I’m pleased with it.”
Nine others — including Scottie Scheffler, Martin Kaymer, Xander Schauffele and Brooks Koepka — are in the clubhouse at four under.
Brooks Koepka in great position for three-peat
Koepka’s record in majors is unparalleled, and he’s back again. The No. 6 player in the world started with a bogey on his second hole of the day but rallied with six birdies in his next 11 holes to settle back in. Koepka is the reigning PGA champ for the second straight year, something he has a bit of experience with. Koepka made one helluva run at a third-straight U.S. Open last year at Pebble Beach, but was eventually bested by Gary Woodland.
Koepka was one of the betting favorites this week, but not a couple weeks ago. It wasn’t until a T-2 finish at last week’s WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational that Vegas began to trust Koepka’s game again. He had struggled most of the season since the restart — thanks in part to a bum knee — but Koepka was also struggling with some weight dispersion.
“When we missed the cut at 3M, went back home and spent Sunday with Pete [Cowen] working at Medalist, and then Monday was up with Claude,” Koepka explained after his round. “And to be honest with you, it was probably the first time I think I hit 40 balls and there was a club 70 yards behind me I chucked it and then threw one in front of me. I was pretty heated, to say the right word.
“And then we went inside and we went on this mat where they show you your weight distribution and we were kind of looking at some things, and at impact I’m about 70 percent on my left side, 70 percent of my weight is on my left side, and when we were looking at it, it was the opposite. It was 70 percent on the right side. We knew what we had to do was get on that left side, and it’s been good since.”
1 player claims Tiger’s latest putter change was made for an intriguing reason
Nearly every equipment change Tiger Woods made during his career was with performance in mind. But as Woods has learned in recent years, some changes are made due to other benefits they provide. In Woods’ case, multiple back surgeries have made it increasingly difficult to conduct lengthy practice sessions. Saving the back for the big events (“majors”) is what matters most.
Woods dropped down in shaft flex with his TaylorMade woods last year, likely in an attempt to gain speed and not put nearly as much strain on his body.
Now he could be doing the exact same thing with the putter.
Steve Stricker, a close confidant of Woods’ on Tour, was asked if he had any insight into Woods’ latest decision to bench his usual Scotty Cameron Newport 2 GSS putter — the same putter that assisted in 14 major titles — for a nearly identical Scotty Cameron Newport 2 Timeless featuring adjustable sole weights. While many, including yours truly, assumed the sole weights meant Woods was trying to go up in head weight to deal with slow greens, Sticker confirmed there’s another — possibly more important — benefit for the 15-time major winner.
“It’s basically the same putter with a little bit more flexibility in the putter,” Stricker said on Wednesday. “He’s able to change the weights around a little bit, but the length is the difference. He’s got a little more length on there, and that’s just so he can practice a little bit more without back pain. That’s what excites him the most is that he was able to put in a lot of time with this putter, and watching him putt, it looked exactly the same to me. He rolled the ball great.”
World No. 128 Martin Kaymer jumps into the mix
Martin Kaymer started on the back nine and shot one under, then opened the front side with a birdie-par-birdie-eagle run to jump into contention. The 2010 PGA champ hasn’t won on the PGA or Euro tours since his 2014 U.S. Open victory. Here’s the eagle putt that did it for him.
Kaymer is currently ranked No. 128 in the world and is coming off a missed cut in last week’s Barracuda Championship.
Zach Johnson uses hot putter to shoot opening 66
Zach Johnson, the two-time major champion, turned in four-under 31 while playing the back nine first at TPC Harding Park on Thursday, finishing even par on the back for an opening 66. The opening nine was his lowest nine-hole score of the season. Johnson is among a large group of players one back of Jason Day.
It was a wicked hot putter than worked for Johnson all day Thursday. He picked up more than four strokes on the field on the greens alone, an astonishing number. That will happen when you make 127 feet of putts, but it’s exactly how Johnson might have to play in order to contend at TPC Harding Park. He lost strokes to the field average off the tee and approaching the green, but made up for it around and on the dance floor.
Scott Van Pelt is calling golf again and golf fans are so happy about it
Scott Van Pelt is one of the more popular announcers in sports, but he holds a special place in the hearts of golf fans. Van Pelt is an avid fan of the game who got his start at Golf Channel, and is well-liked among players.
ESPN’s recent lack of major championship rights means fans have only been able to enjoy his commentary sparingly in recent years, but with ESPN’s re-emergence in the space, especially with the PGA Championship streaming on ESPN+, fans were delighted to hear SVP on the mic once again.
And why do people like SVP so much? Apart from his delightful overall demeanor, he’s got a deep knowledge off the game, but always manages to keep it casual, cracking jokes and not taking himself too seriously. It’s a style that certainly resonates with golf fans, who have been raving about the broadcast so far.
How to buy Tiger Woods’ Stars-and-Stripes-themed face covering
With the start of golf’s major championship season comes a critically important window for another industry: golf fashion. The majors are golf’s most visible events, which means they’re a prime opportunity for golf apparel companies to get eyeballs on their products.
If you’re trying to gain the attention of golf fans, Tiger Woods is a pretty good place to start. The 15-time major champion doesn’t do much without drawing the attention of the golf world as a whole, and this year’s PGA Championship has already proven no different.
Woods has found himself in the spotlight for a different kind of wardrobe decision: his face covering. In an effort to adhere to safety procedures in place ahead of this year’s PGA, Woods has been wearing wearing an American flag-styled neck gait at TPC Harding Park.
The face covering, from SA Company, is made of a lightweight, microfiber material that provides sweat and 30 SPF sun protection. To get your hands on one of Tiger’s face coverings, check out the link here.
The Caddie House: Why four top loopers are crashing together at the PGA Championship
John Wood got to pick the house.
“Being the NorCal guy, I was assigned the rental for the week,” he said.
Wood caddies for Matt Kuchar, the No. 22 player in the world. Of the four caddies sharing a roof this week in San Francisco, Wood’s looping for (by far) the least famous player.
“Yeah, I’m definitely the minor leaguer of the group,” he added.
In this case, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. That’s because the loopers’ lair is filled out by three legends of the craft: Joe LaCava, Michael Greller and Jim “Bones” Mackay.
Wood insists that this is nothing unusual during big events.
“It’s honestly not that unique! We’ve stayed together in rental homes at majors a bunch over the years,” he said.
Unique or not, there’s something notable about four men at the absolute peak of the caddying profession settling into the living room to shoot the breeze — and provide off-the-record analysis — after a day’s work.
“Suffice it to say when golf is on and we are all there, it’s like Mystery Science Theater 3000, PGA version,” Wood said.
The house falls somewhat short of the glamorous rentals that have housed gaggles of top pros at the Open Championship in recent years, like the Portrush abode that Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Kevin Kisner, Zach Johnson and Jimmy Walker called home last summer. But it’s a step above the rental that Joel Dahmen’s caddie Geno Bonnalie proposed as a U.S. Open stay to Aaron Flener.
“Lol Geno it’s 100 square feet,” Flener wrote back in a text exchange he posted to Twitter. “I like you but not ‘enclosed in 100 square feet with you‘ like you.”
AskAlan mailbag: Will the winners of this year’s fan-less majors deserve an asterisk?
GOLF senior writer Alan Shipnuck answers your questions about this week’s PGA Championship.
If Jordan, Phil or Rory complete career Grand Slam this fall with no fans present, will it be considered legitimate or will there be an asterisk? -@MuirFalls
Totally legitimate! This has been one of the most challenging and unusual golf seasons ever. Any player who finds a way to peak at the right time and conquer one of these proud courses should be applauded, not denigrated.
Who finishes higher, Tiger or Phil? Do either of them finish top ten? -@DavidAStorm
Tiger, because I don’t think Phil (coming off a rousing performance in Memphis) can put together eight straight good rounds. I think Woods will grind out a solid finish but not quite a top-10.
Will golf have limited fans at Augusta this November? -@double_bogey
The green jackets certainly have the resources and infrastructure to do whatever they want in terms of fans, assuming the various governmental agencies sign off. They can erect even more towering grandstands and fill only every third seat, allowing thousands of fans to safely encircle most of the greens. In the fairways it would be easy enough to color code the ropes, denoting where you can stand and where you can’t. Masters fans are always on their best behavior, out of respect for the venue and a low-grade fear of having their credential pulled. With an army of Pinkertons on hand to offer gentle reminders I think you could have proper social distancing. The usual 25,000 fans a day is probably a non-starter but, say, a third that number would certainly add lots of ambiance and energy.
Eerie quiet hangs over fan-less PGA Championship site as first major of 2020 creeps closer
A PGA Championship unlike any other is underway, and on Tuesday at Harding Park it was as quiet as church. With no fans on property — and only skeleton crews of reporters, volunteers and player entourages — the competitors enjoyed peaceful, intimate practice rounds. Dustin Johnson, waiting to begin his stroll around Harding Park, spoke loudly into a cellphone. (He was requesting a “52”; presumably that’s the degrees on his gap wedge, not the size of his blazer.)
Standing on the rope line, it was so quiet you could eavesdrop on the conversations in the middle of the fairway. Danny Willett pured a 6-iron and his swing coach Sean Foley offered a one-word verdict: “Cheeky.” Foley later recommended some reading for these complicated times: Between the World and Me and The New Jim Crow. Phil Mickelson (who flexed in shorts on a foggy, blustery day so frigid Gary Woodland was wearing rainpants for extra warmth) dropped a trio of balls in the 10th fairway and feathered short-irons through the breeze, consulting a Bible-sized launch monitor after each swing. “It’s heavy,” he said of the coastal air.
To be sure, the players have grown accustomed to performing in a vacuum ever since the Tour restarted two months ago without galleries. But this is a major championship, and Tuesday at the PGA traditionally has some of the biggest, unruliest crowds of the season. The competitors certainly felt the difference this time around. “I definitely miss having the fans out, just to give you that extra rush and energy of major championship golf and just championship golf in general,” Tony Finau said.
Bryson DeChambeau has transformed himself. But will he also transform the game?
Bryson DeChambeau has single-handedly changed the way we think about the limits of what’s possible on a golf course, with ball speeds and driving distances that boggle the mind. How has he done it? What is his ceiling? And what might his transformation mean for the game? They’re meaty questions — so meaty that we enlisted a panel of our expert writers to explore every angle of DeChambeau’s ascent.
Six weeks ago, on the 9th tee at the Travelers Championship, outside Hartford, Conn., Justin Thomas finally let it rip.
He was two over par and one hole away from signing his card and flying home. After laying up during the first round on the short par-4, the only move now was to bomb driver up over the trees and cut the corner. His drive, caught on the TV broadcast’s ProTracer, was pure, modern distance — 309 yards of carry, 324 yards total, out into the fairway. The real macho move is what followed.
“Where you at, Bryson,” Thomas said, rhetorically, which was picked up by the nearest microphone on a silent course. It was a playful jab at the man everyone was talking about, and who is single-handedly pushing the distance threshold in golf: Bryson DeChambeau.
Thomas’s playful comments were ironic, of course. He knew where Bryson was at. All of the golf world did. He was beginning his second round, a five-birdie 67, en route to finishing T-6 — his sixth-straight top 10. One week later, he beat the field by three in Detroit in the most decisive result of a very changed golfer. In his nine-month quest for unthinkable distance gains, DeChambeau has added 40 pounds to his frame, transformed his swing, altered his equipment and has made success seem inevitable.
Vegas has noticed, making him one of the top betting favorites at this week’s PGA Championship. Among his peers, plenty more than Thomas have noticed. They stare at DeChambeau on the driving range, whisper about him when he’s not around and, in the case of another preeminent long-hitter, Tony Finau, have begun to adopt his go-for-broke methodology. Still, larger questions remain, about DeChambeau and the revolution he is trying to lead.
Get to know PGA Championship host TPC Harding Park
It has the same pedigree as a nearby private club: The closing stretch of Harding Park looks across Lake Merced at the green fingerlings of another golf club: the Olympic Club, no less, a storied private venue and five-time host of the U.S. Open. The Olympic Club was designed by Willie Watson and Sam Whiting and — guess what? — so was Harding Park. The duo’s design fee for Harding Park was $300. That was in 1925. On weekends these days, $200 is the base fee that out-of-towners pay to play the course.
It has another 9: From a bird’s eye view, the routing at Harding Park resembles the cross-section of a cinnamon roll, with the front nine folded inside the back nine. And folded within them both? Another course. The Fleming 9. A nine-hole, par-30 layout named for Jack Fleming, a golf architect and former city golf caretaker for San Francisco.
It has a presidential connection: And not just in the form of the Presidents Cup, which Harding Park hosted in 2009. The course is named for Warren G. Harding, the 29th president of the United States and an avid golfer, who died of a heart attack in 1923 while staying at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco.