England duo Ross Fisher and Andy Sullivan thrust themselves into contention for their maiden Major titles after impressive opening rounds at the US PGA Championship at Baltusrol.
America’s Jimmy Walker set the early pace and headed the leaderboard at the close of play with a five-under 65, although Fisher is just a shot behind and tucked in nicely alongside Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo and Martin Kaymer of Germany.
Fisher’s compatriot Andy Sullivan is tied for fifth having carded a three-over 67, while world No1 Jason Day posted a 68 on a day when a plethora of big hitters failed to fire, including world No4 Rory McIlroy who posted 74.
Five of the last six Major winners have been first-time champions and Ascot-born world No101 Fisher, who made five birdies in his round of 66, insists he has the tools to extend that sequence.
“It would be nice to make it six out of seven, wouldn’t it?” he said. “I’m coming here believing my game is good enough to win. I’ve got off to a great start, but I’m not going to sit back on that.”
McIlroy, meanwhile, faces an uphill battle to make the cut after carding a four-over 74 and failing to register a single birdie. The 27-year-old finished day one nine shots off the lead and tied 121st out of a field of 156.
“First and foremost, I have to play a good round to get into the weekend tomorrow,” said McIlory, a US PGA winner in 2012 and 2014. “That’s the first objective, and then go from there. I need to be more aggressive and shoot something in the mid-60s.
“I was trying my hardest out there to make birdies, and I was giving myself chances in the last few holes, and didn't quite convert them. I can’t remember the last time I went without a birdie.
“I know my game is there, to keep giving myself chances. Just hopefully I'm not shutout tomorrow. I’ll stay as patient as I can and play as hard as I can and hopefully turn it around.”
Defending champion Jason Day fired an opening round of 68 following a week in which he fell ill and spent Tuesday night in hospital after his wife suffered an allergic reaction.
“I played good today. I just didn’t capitalise on the opportunities that I had out there but it’s not disappointing,” said the Australian. “It is what it is.
“I haven’t had the greatest putting display over the last three weeks but, for the most part, I feel pretty happy about where my head is at.”
Two-time Major winner Jordan Spieth fared better than McIlroy and after struggling with his long game ended with a level par 70. Henrik Stenson, victor at the Open Championship earlier this month, finished with a birdie to card three under.
The Swede was by far the form man of this year’s Major winners. World No2 Dustin Johnson, who won the US Open at Oakmont in June, endured a nightmare as he returned a round of 77 – only five players scored worst. Masters winner Danny Willett shot two late birdies to finish one over.