CHARLOTTE — Prior to the PGA Championship, William McGirt noted the incredible length of the newly-renovated Quail Hollow Club golf course.
On Thursday, the 38-year-old Fairmont native navigated the 7,600-yard behemoth with many of his shots coming from more than 200 yards out after his initial tee shot.
The changes didn’t benefit McGirt, who hit 78 percent of his fairways with an average drive of 280 yards but only 50 percent of his greens en route to posting a 7-over 77 in the opening round of the year’s final major.
After rolling in his only birdie of the round on the par-5 15th to get back to 3 over for the day, McGirt finished the final three holes — known as the Green Mile — at 3 over with a bogey on the par-4 16th and, after hitting his tee shot into the water, a double bogey on the par-3 17th.
Thorbjorn Olesen rolled in a 30-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 4-under 67 and Kevin Kisner also birdied the final hole to share the lead heading into the second round.
“Anything under par on this golf course is a good score,” Olesen said.
British Open champion Jordan Spieth carded a 1-over 72 in his quest to become the sixth player to complete the career Grand Slam, with U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka joining Raleigh native Grayson Murray and others at 3-under 68. Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler are among the players at 2 under.
“It’s good motivation for me. Charlotte is only two and a half hours from Raleigh, so I feel like it’s a home game,” said Murray, who was 1 over through nine holes but rolled in four birdies on the back.
“This course is very tough. I played about as good as I could.”
Koepka had birdie putts inside 15 feet on his opening six holes and converted only one of them. He wasn’t the only player struggling to make them.
“If they get about a foot faster, they are kind of unplayable with the pin placements,” Koepka said. “These slopes are just getting bigger and bigger with the speed of the greens and the grain. If you miss it just by a couple feet from the flag, you can hit a great shot in there and wind up 30 yards away.”
Former Masters champion Adam Scott, who finished at even par, said the new greens at Quail Hollow were “trickier than Augusta.”
McGirt had some of the same luck on the greens. Despite the troubles with distance and controlling shots into the greens, McGirt had his share of birdie opportunities, with the best chances coming on Nos. 6, 9, 10 and 11. But he had to settle for pars, skirting the edge on many of the holes.
Starting his round with a bogey on the massive 524-yard, par-4 opening hole, McGirt followed with bogeys on Nos. 5 and 7 to make the turn at 3 over.
McGirt will look to get back in the mix this afternoon at 1:10 p.m. when he tees off from the 10th tee box.
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.