Trevor Immelman ignited the European Tour challenge for the season’s final Major Championship when he formed part of a six-man logjam at the top of the first round leaderboard in the US PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey.
The 25 year old three time winner on The European Tour International Schedule, conquered the searing heat to post a three under par 67 to share pole position with former Open champion Ben Curtis, Stuart Appleby, Phil Mickelson, Rory Sabbatini and Stephen Ames.
Starting at the tenth hole, Immelman reached the turn in two under par 34 before completing a flawless inward half, his only departure from par coming at the 380 yard eighth hole where a fine wedge approach left him a six foot putt for birdie which he duly dispatched.
“I am starting to get a few more Majors under my belt now and the experience is helping me,” he said. “Finishing fifth in the Masters was a huge boost and to play second to last group on the Sunday and hang in there was a nice feeling.
“Then at the Open I played really well and those two finishes have given me confidence to know what to expect playing in the Major arena. There are 18 really strong holes on this golf course and any can bite you at any time.”
The close feel of tournament continued when 11 players ended their respective first rounds on two under par 68, amongst them, European Tour Members Bernhard Langer, Greg Owen, Lee Westwood and Retief Goosen.
Langer ended both halves of his round in fine style, birdieing the seventh, eighth and ninth holes on the way out and eagling the 18th to keep alive his hopes of adding the US PGA Championship to his two Masters Tournament titles.
“I have been playing pretty well recently and in my last two tournaments, the British Open and the Deutsche Bank, I have finished fifth in both of them so I have some confidence,” he said. “If I can keep getting a couple of good breaks, I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t be there on Sunday.”
Another man to finish well was Westwood, who was one over par through 13 holes of his opening round but who finished with three birdies in the final four holes to illustrate his title credentials.
The Englishman gave credit for his improved form to striking up a relationship once again with his former coach Pete Cowen, having moved back to Cowen from David Leadbetter.
“It wasn’t that I wasn’t enjoying working with David but it was just the fact that he is based in Florida and I am based in England and I was finding it difficult to see him at the right times,” he said.
“He was at the bigger tournaments but the bigger tournaments are not where I want to work on my game. I want to work on my game at home and I know that Pete is one of the best coaches in the game and it has worked for me before seeing him and it has clicked into place as quickly as it did the first time round. We have a few good ideas and I have been able to take them onto the golf course.”
Fellow countryman Owen was also in fine form and indicated that his opening 68 was the least he deserved for a solid opening effort.
“I hit a lot of greens and a lot of good putts which didn’t go in. I made a silly mistake on the 17th hole but other than that I drove it really well and only had two shots out of the rough with a wedge and a sand iron but other than that it was good. I said I needed to drive the ball well and I did that,” he said.
“My confidence level is very good. I struggled a little bit with my irons halfway through but I was driving it very well and I had no nerves at all today and I like the golf course. I’m hitting it miles out there and it is now in my hands. I have to just keep believing and playing well.”
Goosen partnered Westwood and put himself in an excellent position to add to his two US Open Championship wins with an identical finish to his playing partner, birdieing the 15th, 17th and 18th.
Other European Tour Members to finish their opening rounds in red figures were Englishmen Luke Donald and Ian Poulter who had respective rounds of one under par 69.
But it was not such a great day for the overwhelming tournament favourite and winner of last month’s Open Championship at St Andrews, Tiger Woods. The World Number One struggled to find his form and could do no better than an opening five over par 75 to leave him in a share of 113th place and with a bit of work to do to make the weekend action.