CHARLOTTE — Jordan Spieth got off to a pedestrian start Thursday in his march toward history at the 99th PGA Championship.
Trying to become the youngest player to win the career Grand Slam, Spieth didn’t make much happen at Quail Hollow and shot a 1-over-par 72 during a hot, humid first round of the last major of the season.
That put him four shots behind the early leaders.
Spieth, 24, who won the British Open last month with late, final-round heroics from the end of his putter, couldn’t get the shortest club in his bag working in the first step of his quest to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players to win all four majors.
“It was just the putter,” Spieth said of the club he used 32 times. “Everything else was fine. I bailed on my two bunker shots I had today which was frustrating. It was just the bunker play and the greens.
“I drove the ball well today. Struck it pretty good. If you told me I was going to hit my driver the way that I did today, I would have definitely thought I shot a few under par, which was an awesome score. … But I can't putt any worse than I did today.”
Spieth wasn’t the only one having trouble on the new Bermuda grass greens installed 15 months ago for this major championship.
“Some of the putts that I had for birdie are really one out of five to make. On other greens you are looking at 50%. Out here, it's just the way it is,” said Spieth, who was followed throughout his round by Olympic champion Michael Phelps. “The pins are on 2½- to 3-degree degree slopes. When you are pin high, it may look like (it is close), but in our minds it's essentially a 20-footer with the expectation on the putts. They are difficult to make if you don't leave it below the hole with not a lot of break.
“I wasn't frustrated. I hit some good putts that missed. I burned a lot of edges today. I didn't make the one out of five. Instead I missed the 10 out of 10 from that kind of range. If I grabbed a couple of those then I would be pleased.
“But you need to be defensive on these greens.”
Spieth said before the tournament started and then after the round was over that there was no additional pressure on him to become the youngest to win the career Grand Slam. Instead, he said, he was free rolling because his year, which includes three victories, is already a great one.
“I don't think I was as free rolling as I thought I would be, as you can tell by some frustration,” he said. “If I would have shot 1 over and didn't strike it well and everything was average, it would have been fine. But when I had the chances that I had and I just couldn't get the ball to go in on the greens, that is when I get the most frustrated I can get out there.”
Spieth isn’t out of it by any means. With birdies on two of his last three holes, he kept himself within sight of the leaders on a very difficult course that most likely will become even tougher to handle as the week progresses.
“Historically, I'm pretty solid with the lead. So that was kind of the goal was to grab the lead. It's much easier when you are on the front page of the leaderboard than it is coming from behind,” Spieth said. “Given it's the first round, I know I'm still in it but I know that (Friday’s) round becomes that much more important to work my way and stay in it. I've got to make up ground. If I'm five back at the start of the day, I've got to be less than five back after Friday to really feel like I can play the way this golf course needs to be played and still be able to win.”