Cameron Smith required a mid-round reset and Lucas Herbert flirted with the Round 1 lead as the Aussie pair finished day one inside the top 10 at the 2022 US PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club in Oklahoma.
Playing ahead of the super-group of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, Smith used three straight birdies after making the turn to post two-under 68 in the morning wave, Herbert matching his countryman’s first round total in more challenging afternoon conditions to sit three shots off the lead.
McIlroy’s five-under 65 went unmatched on day one, Will Zalatoris (66) and Tom Hoge (66) sharing second spot one shot clear of Matt Kuchar (67), Abraham Ancer (67) and Justin Thomas (67).
The Victorian had drawn to within one of McIlroy with a birdie at the par-5 fifth but dropped a shot at the next, failing to get up-and-down from the back fringe at the 218-yard par-3 sixth.
He made par at his next two holes before another bogey at his final hole, the par-4 ninth, dropped Herbert back into a nine-way tie for seventh.
Beginning his championship from the 10th tee, Herbert made an instant impact on the leaderboard.
He made birdies at 10, 13 and 14 to edge past Smith as leading Aussie, falling back to two-under with a bogey at the par-4 15th.
Three pars followed to round out his front nine before birdies at one and three – and a bogey at two – elevated Herbert back to the front page of the leaderboard.
With a best finish in the majors of a tie for 31st at the 2020 US Open, Herbert was thrilled to have made such a strong start in one of the game’s showpiece events.
“I’ve played enough of these major championships now where I feel like I know what it is that I need to do to play well,” said Herbert, who compared Southern Hills to courses of the Melbourne Sandbelt with which he is so familiar.
“I haven’t been able to play the way I would have liked in the majors I’ve played so far but feel like I’ve got more of an understanding of what I need to do to have a chance to compete on Sunday.
“Definitely would have taken two-under at the start of the day. This place is not easy.”
Contending in major championships is nothing new for Cameron Smith.
He played in the final group on Sunday at Augusta National last month yet his hopes of doing something similar at Southern Hills were almost derailed after just nine holes.
Birdies at 11 and 13 were offset by a double-bogey at the par-4 12th and when he dropped shots at 16 and 17 was two-over as he made the turn.
A drink of water and a mental reset did the trick however as the Queenslander made five birdies in his next seven holes to drag himself inside the top 10 heading into the second round.
“It was definitely one of those rounds that could have got away from me quite quickly,” conceded Smith, whose seven birdies matched McIlroy for the most in Round 1.
“Another couple over on that back nine, I’m probably out of the golf tournament. So nice to rally.
“Just a little bit of a mental reset. Felt as though I’ve played some pretty good golf on my front nine, but unfortunately a couple times with gusts of wind and stuff like that, you can make some pretty quick bogeys and doubles around here if you’re not careful.
“Just took that into account, a quick mental reset, and I knew I was hitting the ball well; just need to go out there and do it.”
Kiwi Ryan Fox extended his outstanding form on the DP World Tour into his first major of the year, his even-par 70 made up of four birdies and four bogeys to be tied for 28th.
Champion seven years ago, Jason Day hit just 56 per cent of greens in regulation but scrambled to a one-over 71 as Marc Leishman and Cam Davis both began their PGA Championship campaigns with rounds of two-over 72.
Matt Jones and Min Woo Lee are both tied for 79th following rounds of one-over 73 but Adam Scott’s hopes may have sunk with his tee shot at the par-4 17th, his quadruple-bogey eight on top of his double bogey six at 10 doing the bulk of the damage in his seven-over 77.
US PGA Championship – Round 1
1 Rory McIlroy (65)
T7 Lucas Herbert (68)
T7 Cameron Smith (68)
T27 Ryan Fox (70)
T38 Jason Day (71)
T56 Cam Davis (72)
T56 Marc Leishman (72)
T78 Matt Jones (73)
T78 Min Woo Lee (73)
T130 Adam Scott (77)
Round 2 tee times AEST
10.05pm* Min Woo Lee, Ryan Brehm, Wyatt Worthington II
10.38pm* Adam Scott, Shane Lowry, Brooks Koepka
10.55pm Marc Leishman, Martin Kaymer, Keegan Bradley
11pm* Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Harold Varner III
11.50pm Lucas Herbert, Chad Ramey, Austin Hurt
4.20am Cam Davis, Matt Kuchar, Rikuya Hoshino
4.25am* Cameron Smith, Viktor Hovland, Will Zalatoris
4.53am Matt Jones, Richard Bland, Garrick Higgo
5.15am Ryan Fox, Shawn Warren, Pablo Larrazabal