Spanish teenager Sergio Garcia bounced back from his Open Championship disappointment by equalling the course record of 66, six under par, at Medinah CC to lead the 81st US PGA Championship.
Garcia heads a strong European challenge with Lee Westwood, Ryder Cup contender Robert Karlsson and Ryder Cup Captain Mark James finished on two under par 70, while Nick Faldo made a solid start with a 71. Garcia leads Americans Jay Haas, J P Hayes and Mike Weir who all finished their first round on 68 .
"I just played great. I hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens, and I made a lot of putts," said Garcia who, at age 19, is the second-youngest player in the PGA Championship and its youngest leader since the event switched to stroke-play format four decades ago. He's also the youngest competitor since Gene Sarazen teed it up at age 19 in 1921.
"I really felt good after the break," he added after his round had been disrupted by electrical storms. "I am very happy leading a major championship for the first time."
Garcia's start comes as a dramatic contrast to the first round of his last major championship, that notorious 89 on opening day at Carnoustie. "I think I proved myself today and the British Open is done," he said. "Everything went my way [today] and at the Open everything went the wrong way."
Luck appeared to be on his side right from the start when, after hitting a 5-iron into the rough on the par-3 second hole, he chipped in for a birdie, then parred the next two holes before birdieing the par-5 fifth.
Four pars later, he was out in 34. He birdied the par-4 11th after hitting a 9-iron to within a foot of the flag, and followed up with birdies on Nos. 14, 16 and 18. He then holed six-footers on 14 and 18, but the best putt was from 30 feet on the 16th after a slightly wayward 9-iron into the green.
Garcia is 12th in the Ryder Cup points list but his opening 66 takes him a step closer to becoming the youngest player to play in the Matches. If he was to qualify for The Country Club, Brookline, he would take over the record from Faldo.
Faldo also chipped in and holed a 70 foot putt onm his way to a 71. "My confidence is improving all the time," said Faldo. "I'm more positive and that's the best thing."
Open Champion Paul Lawrie had a roller-coaster ride in his first competitive round in America, opening with four birdies in the first five holes to share the lead before giving them all back by the 12th and finishing with a one over par 73. Westwood hit a 152-yards nine iron to six feet for a closing birdie to finish on two under.
“I’m normally about five over and seven behind after the first round of a major – that’s undoubtedly my best start,” said the winner of his last two tournaments. “I’m fairly excited. I think I will run close this week. I’m hitting the ball better and better and every aspect of my game is good.
Westwood’s brother-in-law Andrew Coltart, who currently occupies the last automatic spot in the Ryder Cup points table, had a level par as did Darren Clarke.
European Tour Number One Colin Montgomerie birdied two of the first five but had slipped to one over after the tenth. He bounced back with a birdie on the 14th to finish on level par. However Jose Maria Olazabal, who broke a bone in his hand in June, struggled to a round of 79.