PITTSFORD, N.Y. — World No. 1 Jon Rahm has been riding high for several months, with a Masters green jacket the highlight of his terrific 2023 season thus far.
None of that mattered Thursday for the Spaniard on a difficult first day of the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club.
Rahm piled up six bogeys, a double bogey and just two birdies in his opening-round 76, putting him at 6 over and in danger of missing the 36-hole cut Friday.
Rahm’s putter played a major role in his undoing down the stretch.
“The only thing I can look back on myself is the three short putts I missed on the back nine,” Rahm said. “I’m between 3 to 5 feet. If I make those putts, I shoot 3 over which is not the worst-case scenario.”
Rahm, who started his round on the back nine, was 3 over through 11 holes when he reached the par-3 third. He landed in a greenside bunker, blasted out and left himself just 5 feet for par, but the putt didn’t drop.
The next hole was his only remaining par-5, a scoring opportunity. His third shot nestled to within 4 feet of the cup, but he grazed the right edge of the cup on his birdie try.
Then Rahm struggled at the par-4 seventh, reaching the green in four shots. He could have saved bogey from 4 feet and change. No dice.
With the first round still in progress, Rahm ranked in the bottom 10 in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting. He also made a mere five out of 14 fairways in regulation.
“The main thing on this course is hitting the fairway,” Rahm said. “If you put the ball in the fairway you can actually give yourself a lot of good chances. Even 18 today was playing downwind, so if you put it on the fairway, you can have a good look at maybe hitting it close and that’s what I didn’t do.”
Per ESPN, the round was the worst score by a world No. 1 in the opening round of a major since Dustin Johnson shot 76 to open the 2021 PGA Championship.
Rahm must be in the top 70 and ties after Friday’s round to make the cut and see the weekend. He came into this championship looking to be the first player to win back-to-back majors since Jordan Spieth in 2015.
“If I can somehow manage to put a low one tomorrow and find myself close to even par … going into Sunday, I think I’ll have a decent chance,” he said.
Rahm was far from the only elite player who struggled Thursday. Former major winners Matt Fitzpatrick of England and Jason Day of Australia also carded 76. Defending champion Justin Thomas and four-time major winner Brooks Koepka shot 2-over 72, and Jordan Spieth and Ireland’s Shane Lowry shot 73.
–By Adam Zielonka, Field Level Media