Jordan Spieth began his charge at golf history with a par Thursday morning at the PGA Championship, launching his bid to become the youngest player to complete a career Grand Slam.
With a victory, Spieth would become only the sixth man to sweep the four current major titles in a career after Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen.
World number two Spieth, who won last month’s British Open for his third major title, opened on the longest hole of par-71 Quail Hollow’s 7,600-yard layout, the 592-yard par-5 10th, by finding the fairway with a 290-yard tee shot.
The 24-year-old American left his second shot in the heart of the fairway, then dropped his approach 23 feet beyond the hole and two-putted for par.
Scotland’s Russell Knox and England’s Chris Wood opened birdie-birdie on the back nine to seize the early lead in the first round of the year’s last major tournament.
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, coming off a victory last week at Akron after a final-round 61, also went birdie-birdie at 10 and 11 but stumbled back with a bogey at the par-4 12th hole.
Alongside Spieth in the feature group were the year’s two other major winners, Spain’s Sergio Garcia from the Masters, who made a 10-foot birdie putt at the 10th, and American Brooks Koepka from the US Open, who lipped out from five feet for birdie and settled for par.
Spieth, who also won the 2015 Masters and US Open, would become the youngest golfer to complete a career Grand Slam by winning the Wanamaker Trophy here, being 190 days younger than Woods was when he won the 2000 British Open.
“He has that intangible of when he doesn’t have his best stuff… to still find a way to win,” said five-time major champion Phil Mickelson. “It’s just that indescribable trait that he has to find a way to get it done, find the will to win. He’s extremely tough to beat because he just finds a way to gut it out.”
Spieth dismisses the idea of extra pressure trying to break the age mark, saying he has many years to try and complete the career Slam, his larger priority.
“There won’t be added expectations or pressure,” Spieth said. “It’s not a burning desire to have to be the youngest to do something, and that would be the only reason there would be added expectations.”
Spieth also could become the first to finish the career Slam with a victory at the PGA.
“He’s a special guy,” four-time major winner Ernie Els said. “He has won some events really showing some grit. You can’t really describe it, but it’s there. The guy finds a way of getting it done. He’s really playing his game and grinding it out. That’s a great way to win golf tournaments.”
Spieth is ready for the challenge of a course that has absorbed an inch of rain this week, giving long hitters an extra edge with balls plopping into fairways and holding on greens that might otherwise be lightning-fast.
“This is going to be one of the most challenging tracts I think we’ve played,” Spieth said.
– McIlroy has afternoon start –
Leading the afternoon wave will be world number four Rory McIlroy. The 28-year-old from Northern Ireland could become only the third player to win five majors before turning 30, joining Nicklaus and Woods.
McIlroy, missing only the Masters to complete his own career Grand Slam, hasn’t won a major since the 2014 PGA Championship.
But he has won twice in US PGA Tour events at Quail Hollow, losing a third in a playoff. And he has shown skill in wet weather, notably at the 2011 US Open, where he won his first major.
Other afternoon starters include US stars Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson, Spain’s Jon Rahm and England’s Justin Rose.