Thursday at the 2023 PGA Championship unveils new Oak Hill as tough test
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Thursday at the 2023 PGA Championship unveils new Oak Hill as tough test

A photo of Bryson DeChambeau

PITTSFORD, N.Y. – Light winds and mild temperatures allowed for low scores at the 105th PGA Championship being conducted at the East Course of Oak Hill Country Club.

The 2020 U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau led after the round concluded on Friday morning after posting a 4-under 66. Scottie Scheffler and Corey Conners are one stroke behind at 3-under, while a group of four players stands at 2-under, including 2011 PGA Champion Keegan Bradley and Norwegian standout Viktor Hovland. Two popular favorites and names that were on many short-lists to win, Rory McIlroy and Collin Morikawa, carded 1-over 71s.

Starting on the back nine, DeChambeau, a defector to the rogue LIV Tour funded by Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, birdied four of his last 10 holes, including a clean-card 32 on the front. Overall, DeChambeau balanced six birdies against two bogeys.

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By contrast, Scheffler’s 67 was bogey-free. Also starting on the back, he birdied the short 14th (playing the easiest hole on the golf course currently), then came alive late birdieing the new par-3 fifth hole, (called “Little Poison," and the quirky par-4 eighth, which dog-legs in an awkward position.

“Today was probably the easiest conditions we'll see all week with the golf course, so getting around with no bogeys was really good. There's not really many birdie opportunities out there. So, if you can limit the mistakes, good things will happen,” Scheffler observed post-round.

Scheffler, who has won twice already this season, then credited a crucial par save at the par-5 fourth hole as a catalyst for the closing stretch of his round.

“I got some good momentum after No. 4. I pulled my drive a little bit there, which is a miss….I went up against a tree and actually got the ball back into play somehow, which was a great shot. Hit a pretty good iron shot in there too, we got a wind switch,” Scheffler noted. “And I had a really good up and down to keep the round going. You would hate to bogey a par-5, especially when there's only two of them around this place. That was good momentum.”

Not to be outdone by Scheffler, Corey Conners’s 67 was as wild as a Quentin Tarantino movie: six birdies against three bogeys. Indeed, the bogeys should irk him since they came at some of the shorter holes at Oak Hill. After bogeying the tricky second, he birdied the fifth, the long and difficult sixth, and the shortish eighth to turn in 33. He bogeyed 10, but then rattled off three more birdies at 12, 14 and 15, a stretch most players hope to take advantage of before turning home for the final run back to the clubhouse.

Of the early wave, perhaps Viktor Hovland had the strangest round. He only hit six fairways, but he hit 14 greens. Uncanny, seeing as how the rough runs from thick three-and-a-half-inch spinach patches to six-and-a-half-inch, club-grabbing green Velcro.

“I knew even with perfect weather like this, it was still going to be hard. You don't have to be very far off to make a bogey and they can kind of come in a row if you're not too careful. It's one of the hardest tests that I've played in a while,” he stated. “[If] you play really well and hit fairways and greens, you can make some putts, you can shoot a few under par. But if you're a little bit off, the rough is just so penal.”

Well okay, well then what’s the secret to hitting greens out of it to the tune of turning 6/14 into 14/18? Something we talked about consistently pre-championship: patience and discipline.

“I stayed really patient today. I didn't have a very good start. I was 2-over through three, and luckily I was able to make three birdies in a row right after that. I just really tried to do a good job of hitting middle of the greens, just giving myself a lot of putts.”

Meanwhile, newly-minted Masters champion Jon Rahm of Spain struggled mightily, posting a disappointing 76, tied for 132nd, 10 shots back. Things looked promising when, starting on the back, he opened with a textbook birdie on the 10th, but then bogeys in six holes between 16 (his seventh hole of the day) and the par-3 third dropped him to 4 over. He then bogeyed six and double bogeyed seven before birdieing the eighth to finish 6-over for the day. A dismal line score of 4-for-14 fairways hit and 7-of-18 greens in regulation won’t be bring any hardware home and could lead to an early exit tomorrow in the form of a missed cut.

“The main thing on this course is hitting the fairway. If you put the ball in the fairway you can actually give yourself a lot of good chances ... and that is what I did not do,” Rahm admitted. “I couldn't find the fairway, and the fairways that I missed cost me bogeys.”

Other former major champions and popular stars that have finished their rounds include reigning Open Championship winner Cameron Smith and a trio of former PGA champions at 2 over Justin Thomas (2017 and 2022), Padraig Harrington (2008) and Brooks Koepka (2018 and 2019). Gary Woodland, Jimmy Walker (the 2016 PGA Champion) and Jordan Speith, seeking the final leg of the career Grand Slam are at 3 over, while Zach Johnson and Webb Simpson are at 4 over. Reigning U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick of England is at 6 over.

“That was the worst I've hit it in a long time,” groused a surly unobliging Koepka after the round. “Scrambled really well, missed a couple putts early, but scrambled really well late. Yeah, that was the worst I've hit it in a really long time. Probably could have shot even. But like I said, I just didn't have it.”

About the author

Jay Flemma

Jay Flemma

Starting with a blog and a dream, Jay Flemma launched his first sports-writing website in 2004. Some 13 years and 25 major golf championships later, Jay has won multiple national sports writing awards. Besides GNN, his work has appeared in numerous books as well as on-line at Cybergolf,, GolfObserver, and many other sites and print magazines. When not trying to find a lost golf ball, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet, sports and trademark lawyer in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.