Justin Rose adapted superbly to his first taste of Major Championship golf in America with a fine opening 69 in the US PGA Championship at the Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota.
The confident and controlled three under par effort moved the 22 year old Englishman alongside Australian Peter Lonard as the European Tour leading challengers in the first round, both players only one shot adrift of early pacesetters Fred Funk and Jim Furyk.
For Rose, the youngest player in the field, it was a perfect start to his Major career in America, the winner of two titles already on The European Tour International Schedule in 2002 quickly adapting to the pace of the greens and showing confidence to not let the occasional bogey get him down.
One of those came at the ninth but Rose provided the perfect response with birdies at the tenth and 12th to move to two under par for the tournament. The Englishman bogeyed the 13th after finding sand but again quickly recovered with a birdie at the long 15th, chipping to six feet and holing out.
Through the back of the green at the 16th, Rose showed composure to pitch and putt for par before an excellent tee shot at the 182 yard 17th set up a birdie putt from 12 feet which he rolled in with aplomb.
“It’s been a fantastic start for me,” admitted Rose. “It was a tricky day, a difficult day with the wind but my putting was the key for me. The speed of my putts was very good which meant I didn’t leave myself too many tricky three or four footers.
“I didn’t really have any butterflies in my stomach at the start, I was quite calm and focused and all I was really thinking about was trying to get zoned in on my swing keys which I managed to do well.
“I also had my family out here with me and they walked all the way round which was really nice. I try to keep a look out for them on every hole, so that was nice to have faces you recognise in the crowds.”
Alongside Rose, Lonard, who finished 11th in the US Open Championship at Bethpage State Park and tied for 14th in the Open Golf Championship at Muirfield, continued his excellent showing in Majors with another solid round.
Birdies at the eighth and 14th moved the Australian to two under par before successive birdies at the 16th and 17th from 15 feet saw Lonard momentarily in a share of the lead. But he dropped a shot at the last after driving into a fairway bunker and clipping the top of the sand with his attempted escape.
“The type of golf we are playing here is similar to the type and conditions I was used to growing up in Australia so I feel comfortable here,” said Lonard. “I felt confident early in the year and confidence breeds confidence, so hopefully I can keep that going.”
Two shots behind Lonard and Rose, the European Tour challenge was maintained by Angel Cabrera and Vijay Singh, both of whom opened with one under par 71s.
While Cabrera, winner of the Benson and Hedges International Open at The De Vere Belfry in May, was pleased to settle for red figures after a rollercoaster round which featured six birdies and five bogeys, Singh was less satisfied after an untidy ending to his round.
The winner of the 1998 US PGA Championship at Sahalee looked to be heading for perhaps a share of the lead when he covered the first 16 holes in three under par, but a wayward tee shot into the water at the short 17th cost the Fijian a bogey four and another pulled tee shot at the last saw him finish with a bogey five.
Other players to finish on 71 included World Number One Tiger Woods and European Tour Members Nick Faldo and Padraig Harrington while amongst those on level par 72 were fellow European Tour Members José Coceres, Ernie Els and Pierre Fulke.
Els, the winner of the Open Golf Championship at Muirfield last month, partnered Woods and looked like he was set to outscore the American when he birdied his opening two holes, the tenth and 11th. But the South African could not maintain the momentum and he had to settle for a level par opener.
Alongside him, Fulke continued to show the upturn in form which saw him finish in the top 30 in the Open and tied for sixth in The TNT Open, as four birdies and four bogeys made up his 72.
Amongst the early starters, the Swede was one of the players whose round was interrupted for nearly three hours in its early stages when the players were taken off the course because of the threat of a thunder and lightning storm, meaning the first round was not completed on the opening day.
It was an understandable reaction by the tournament organisers however, who still had unhappy memories of the 1991 US Open Championship at Hazeltine when a spectator was killed and five others were hospitalised when a freak lightning storm hit the opening round then too.
“It was a tough day and it always is having to play six holes and then stopping for almost three hours,” said Fulke. “I have been struggling a bit with my putter but I changed to one I felt I could line up better and I feel more comfortable with that – it has made a difference.”
At the head of affairs, joint leaders Funk and Furyk shared identical rounds of 68, both players picking up five birdies and dropping their only shots of the day at the 204 yard 13th.