Niclas Fasth continued to ride the wave of confidence which propelled him to a runner-up finish behind David Duval at Royal Lytham & St.Annes when he fired a four under par 66 to finish in a nine-way tie for second place behind Kiwi Grant Waite in the first round of the 83rd US PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club.
The 29 year old from Orebro charged home in 30, five under par, after starting at the tenth to join Americans David Duval, Phil Mickelson, Fred Funk, Dudley Hart, Brad Faxon, David Toms, Korea's KJ Choi and Australia’s Stuart Appleby in the clubhouse, two behind Waite who fired a six under par 64.
It was late in the day when the lead was snatched by 36 year old waite, who now resides in Florida. Despite missing the cut in his only four US PGA Championships to date, and missing his last five on the US PGA Tour, Waite prospered in the hot Georgia sun.
Out in 31, he birdied the 12th and the last from 15 feet to break free of the log-jam which throttled the top of the leaderboard.
Meanwhile there was a dramatic finishing flourish by Fasth, who closed with a 67 in the Open Championship to finish three behind Duval. Currently seventh in the Ryder Cup points list, the Swede knows that another high finish in the last Major of the season should secure his place at The De Vere Belfry next month.
“I know I am in a strong position but I’m not there yet. I want to concentrate on the next two weeks in America before thinking about the Ryder Cup” he said after holing putts ranging from three to 15 feet at the first, third, fifth, sixth and ninth.
Fasth tried unsuccessfully to negotiate the notoriously difficult closing holes, bogeying the 16th and 18th, but took advantage of the marginally less brutal front nine to compile his superb score.
He said: “This is real tough. It’s a new experience for me to play in a Major in the United States but it was fun. The course, especially as a par 70, is longer than the majority we play and it demands great accuracy with the driver.
“I made a couple of mistakes at the 16th and 18th with the driver and paid the price but apart from that I drove it well. I played wonderfully and my confidence is definitely up at the moment.”
Nick Faldo, six times a Major winner, played his way into a promising position with a round of 67 - just 24 hours after insisting the course was too long and too demanding for a 44 year old.
Faldo looked sheepish when reminded of his comments that he was at a "severe disadvantage" and joked: "It was just me trying to make Tiger feel good!"
He added: "Ten years ago I was a genuine contender. Now I am older and just view this as an opportunity to go out and play well. I have a free run in the Majors now as I feel I have nothing to prove."
Also on 67 was Scot Andrew Coltart, who impressed his playing partner, American Ryder Cup captain Curtis Strange, with a near flawless round.
Out in 32, Coltart knocked his approach to three feet at the tenth to get to four under par, but made his only error at the 17th where he three putted for his only bogey of the day.
"I am happy with that" he said. "It's fairly difficult to keep concentration for five hours in that heat and humidity and I had to take a couple of time outs to compose myself.
"I tried not to get too far ahead of myself and it was unfortunate to three putt the 17th. I was trying to get as low as I could and was driving it straight enough to set myself up with some good birdie chances."
Denmark's Thomas Bjorn joined the group of European Tour Members on 67 while Sergio Garcia shot a 68 to land on the same mark as last week's Celtic Manor Resort Wales Open champion, Paul McGinley, and another leading Ryder Cup contender, Phillip Price.
Price, who had to contend with the late afternoon conditions when the greens spiked up, composed an assured two under par round to stay very much in touch for an automatic qualifying place.
Confidence and optimism positively oozed from Ireland’s McGinley following his victory in Wales following a five hole play-off against Paul Lawrie and Daren Lee,
McGinley was four under par after 14 holes but, playing the course in the correct order, found the closing stretch a tough proposition.
He bogeyed the 16th and 17th for a two under par 68 but, in the circumstances, admitted: “I would have taken that before the start. This is one tough golf course and although I would have been thrilled with a 66, I am not unhappy with 68.”
McGinley blamed a “mental error” for his bogey at the 17th when he went into the water and made a good up and down for par. He added: “That is the only thing I would change about the round.
“I hit a lot of good shots and I am controlling the ball nicely at the moment. I suppose you could say it’s a chance missed having got to four under but you have to remember that this course is really difficult and there has to be a bit of give and take.”
A clutch of European Tour Members finished on 69 - Bernhard Langer, US Open champion Retief Goosen, Argentina's Angel Cabrera and Jose Coceres and 1999 Open champion Paul Lawrie.
Jesper Parnevik ended the day with a level par 70, one better then Volvo Order of Merit reigning champion Lee Westwood and his predecessor in that role, Colin Montgomerie.
England’s Ian Poulter, playing in his first Major in the USA, was left kicking himself after finishing on 73, three over par, following two bogeys and a double bogey during a homeward nine of 39.
He had gone to two under par after three holes and confessed he allowed a smile to cross his face when he saw his name at the top of the leaderboard. He said: “I then promptly three putted the fourth and my name came off again! I messed up at the par threes. Just a couple of bad swings and one of them cost me a double bogey at the 15th.”
Duval, who won the 130th Open Championship last month to claim his first Major, made a sound start in his bid to win them back-to-back. The World Number Two card symmetrical halves of 33 to join the expanding group on 66.