Friday, 19 March 2010

England’s Graeme Storm showed his gratitude at receiving a special invite to play in the 89th US PGA Championship by leaving the world’s greatest players trailing two shots in his wake at a searingly hot Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The 29 year old from Hartlepool only learned that his management company’s request for an invitation had been successful two weeks ago, and Storm repaid the courtesy of the PGA of America by firing a blistering five under par 65.

That wonderful round – the best of his career given the 100 degree temperatures and the quality of the field – left Storm atop of the leaderboard by two clear strokes from former winner, John Daly of the United States.

Storm plundered five birdies from a devilishly tricky course and didn’t drop a single shot as many of the world’s superstars battled to break par, a feat eventually achieved by only 12 players.

It was one of the finest rounds of golf played in 2007 and re-established Storm as one of the most improved players of the year on The European Tour International Schedule. Just seven weeks ago, his season took a dramatic upward swing when he broke through to win the Open de France ALSTOM.

Overall, it was another superb day for The European Tour as Austria’s Markus Brier, Open Champion Padraig Harrington of Ireland and England’s Lee Westwood all shot one under par 69s to tie for sixth place, one stroke behind Arron Oberholser and Woody Austin, who shared third place on 68. All this in a field containing 98 of the world’s top 100.

Another Englishman, Justin Rose, could have joined that elite group but bogeyed the last to finish on a level par 70 alongside Open runner-up Sergio Garcia of Spain and South Africa’s Retief Goosen, who won the 2001 US Open at the same venue.

Storm, currently 15th on The European Tour Order of Merit, confessed to feeling “ecstatic” after compiling an apparently effortless round under testing conditions which the battled-heartened Ernie Els described as “extreme”.

“It’s an amazing feeling to record a score like that in a Major” said Storm, who once worked in a cake factory for £145 a week just to buy some Christmas presents for his family. “I was very calm out there, probably because I had no expectations.

“I shot 18 over par on a difficult course in Firestone last week so I decided to forget about technique, forget about everything in fact, and go out and enjoy the moment. I think it’s fair to say that I am enjoying the moment!”

Storm, whose chip-in for a birdie at the second hole (his 11th) was perhaps the highlight of a fine day’s golf in Oklahoma, continued: “My win in France was unquestionably life-changing. It has helped me get this invitation, which is a magnificent gesture from the PGA of America. You can’t turn these things down.”

Daly, who won the title on his debut in 1991, birdied four of his first 13 holes in sweltering heat in Tulsa, Oklahoma, before carding a three under par 67.

Compatriot Arron Oberholser was in a share of third place after shooting a four birdie 68, three ahead of title holder Tiger Woods, who bogeyed two of his last three holes for a 71.

Daly put together a round where he was “very aggressive off the tee” and ended up mixing four birdies with a lone bogey.

He added: "I didn't know what else to do. "I haven't played this course since '94 and didn't play a practice round this week because it was too hot. But the angles were really good for me today and I hit the driver real well."

Daly, who has made only five cuts in 17 US PGA Tour starts this season, said he had no idea if he could maintain his form for the rest of the week.

"I don't know how well I'll play the next day or three days but I've got a little bit of confidence in certain areas," he added. "I didn't hit a lot of fairways with the driver but I hit my lines and I made a lot of putts today. To play well you've got to have confidence and I've had none, so hopefully this will help."

A double bogey on his penultimate hole slowed down Lee Westwood but the Englishman was still happy with his first round score.

The 34 year old from Worksop, who had four birdies at steamy Southern Hills, posted a one under par 69. The double bogey came at the 245 yard, par three eighth where Westwood pushed his tee shot into a bunker, hit out 40 feet past the hole and three putted for a five.

"Three under would have been better than one under but you are not going to do too much damage with a 69 around here," he said. "If somebody offered me four 69s I'd bite their hand off.

"I had chances to shoot a 65 here, there were chances on one and three between eight and ten feet."

"It's pretty hot but if you don't let the conditions get to you it's playable," he said. "Keep in the shade and drink lots of water."

Westwood, whose best result in the event was a tie for 15th in 2000, won in Spain in May but has not had a top ten finish since.

"I've played pretty well since the start of the year in Asia and Europe, played pretty steadily without doing too much and got myself into position and not capitalised on it," he said.

Harrington, who finished strongly in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last week, is once again in the hunt, despite a bogey at the 17th which prevented him finishing higher than tied sixth at the end of the opening day.

However he had no complaints about a 69, saying: “It doesn’t matter whether it was a 68 or a 70. Anyone round about that score will feel they are capable of going forward. A 69 puts me in the right place, although there is a lot of work to be done.

“I have no problems with the heat if I do the right things. I hydrate well and eat properly and stand in the shade to keep cool. You have to stay disciplined.”

Garcia, eager to bury the disappointment of last month's Open play-off defeat to Harrington, was satisfied after opening with a level par 70.
Despite bogeying the last two holes, the 27 year old Spaniard ended the first round three strokes behind Daly.

"It was just a shame, those bogeys on the last two. I misread both putts. But overall it was not a bad round. I got off to a great start and I missed three good birdie chances on 14, 15 and 16 so I could have been easily four or five under through seven.

"Then there's some tough holes coming out and I made a couple of bad bogeys here and there. I recovered nicely, though, and then unfortunately I just didn't have a great finish."

Garcia, beaten in a four hole play-off at Carnoustie, reeled off three successive birdies from the par three 11th before bogeying the 17th. Out in two under 33, he dropped another shot at the fourth and birdied the fifth before his bogey bogey finish.

Garcia said the round had been slow going with temperatures peaking at around 100 degrees (38 degrees Celsius). 

"The heat definitely affects you because you're constantly sweating. You have to dry yourself, your arms, your hands and the grip and everything and 15 seconds later you're sweating again. It's not easy and it takes a lot of time to get ready."

Garcia's group, which also included last year's US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy and 2006 U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Tom Lehman, was put on the clock for slow play after seven holes.

"It was mainly because of the things I've been telling you about, having to dry yourself and everything" he said.

Sweden’s Niclas Fasth opened with a one over par 71 but expressed disappointment with his score. Fasth, who enjoyed a top ten finish in the US Open in June, said: “I feel that I left a good score out there. My driving and putting weren’t good enough.

“I enjoy the Majors. I think if I can get under par for the weekend that would be a good target to help me get into contention.”

England’s Luke Donald and South African Els both finished on 72, two over par, with Welshman Bradley Dredge, the first man out, carded an opening round of 73.

Els praised the Southern Hills course and observed: “The set up is perfect. If you miss a shot in the rough you have a 50 per cent chance of recovering, but in the same breath there is a chance of making a double bogey.”

Donald insisted that the temperatures didn’t disturb his concentration. “I’m not too bothered. I played in hotter at the Walker Cup at Sea Island” he said. “I am still encouraged. If I keep playing like this then the putts might start to drop.”

Dredge commented: “I had it relatively cool today so I don’t know what it’s going to be like at 12.45 when I tee off tomorrow! I didn’t play well enough to make a decent score today.”

Three-time Champion Woods, who racked up four birdies and five bogeys, said: "I thought I hit the ball better than I scored," three time Champion Woods said after racking up four birdies and five bogeys.

"The greens were softer this morning and the wind was blowing a little bit but at least it was from the same direction. But I had a tough time on the back nine with the wind."

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