The year’s final major is underway, and true to form, there are a whole lot of unfamiliar names atop the leaderboard … at least to start. Here’s what to watch while you’re pretending to work on Friday.
Who’s that guy?
The PGA Championship has been very kind to newcomers; of the past seven winners, six have been first-time major champions. The tournament’s gargantuan, 156-member field allows for many more players to have the weekend of their lives — or, in this case, the Thursday. You may not see guys like Thorbjorn Olesen and Kevin Kisner come Sunday, but at the moment, they’re at the top of the heap at 4-under. The only major winner high on the leaderboard is Brooks Koepka, and he’s only been in that category for about two months. Expect players like Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth to start crawling their way upward, but the vast array of lesser-known players already ahead of them could mean we’re in for yet another first-time major winner.
Grand Slam watch
Spieth, as you may have heard, is trying to complete the career Grand Slam in the fewest tournaments possible, and at a younger age than anyone before him. If he’s going to do it, he’ll have to work; he finished Thursday five strokes off the lead, though he conceded that he missed plenty of makeable putts. Could the pressure get to him? He claims no, but let’s be honest: the Grand Slam won’t ever be far from discussion of his career unless and until he nails it down.
Ugly start, ugly finish
You’ll hear the term “The Green Mile” approximately 700,000 times this weekend (second only to “Grand Slam” if Spieth works his way into contention) and it’s with good reason. The closing three holes at Quail Hollow have just enough temptation to get players into trouble, but more than enough challenge to prove a useful set of closing holes. Right now, 16, 17 and 18 rank 2, 3, and 1 respectively as the most difficult holes in the tournament, a rough way to close out your day. (Since 2003, they’re the three toughest closing holes on Tour, adding an average of 0.9 strokes to every player’s card.) At the other end of the scorecard is the first hole, a par 4 which plays as the fourth-hardest. For players starting their day at No. 10, it’s a brutal, card-killing way to make the turn.
Cut line looming
The PGA Championship cut line sits at the top 70 and ties, with no rule that those within 10 shots of the leader stick around. Sergio Garcia (+4), Bubba Watson (+6), and Phil Mickelson (+8) are among those who’ll need to put a few red numbers on the board to see the weekend.
Weather’s (non) factor
It’s not likely to rain at all on Friday until late in the afternoon, if then. That means the already-speedy greens are only going to become more treacherous as they dry out. “These greens are the fastest greens I’ve ever played,” Koepka said after his round. “And the thing is, they are only going to get faster and firmer.” If that’s the case, Thursday might have been the best day of the week to post a low number.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.