CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jordan Spieth felt like he was "free rolling" going into the PGA Championship, the only major keeping him from the career Grand Slam. He just didn't anticipate greens rolling like this.
On some of the fastest, frightening and at times frustrating greens the PGA Championship has seen, Kevin Kisner and Thorbjorn Olesen emerged with a share of the lead Thursday at 4-under 67, the highest score to lead this major after the opening round in seven years.
Spieth didn't make a putt longer than 5 feet — that one was for par — and was coming off a pair of three-putt bogeys from long range when he steadied himself with a pair of perfectly executed birdies for a 72 that left him five shots behind and very much in the game.
"Given it's the first round, I know I'm still in it, but I know that (today's) round becomes that much more important," Spieth said. "If I'm five back at the start of the day, I've got to be less than five back after Friday to really feel like I can play the way this golf course needs to be played and still be able to win."
For all the talk about this 7,600-yard course favoring the big hitters, the shortest club in the bag turned out to be just as valuable.
"Any time you have a putt down grain, downhill … we just tap it and hope it stops by the hole," Jon Rahm said after 70.
U.S. Open champion and former Florida State golfer Brooks Koepka led five players at 68. Koepka missed a half-dozen putts from 12 feet or closer. "Make sure the worst score you make is a bogey," he said, "and give yourself a couple of good chances on the easier holes."
That's the way Kisner approached it. He identified four or five holes where he could make birdie, and he played for par everywhere else. "I birdied them all (Thursday)," he said.
Rickie Fowler made plenty of birdies, and he needed them to offset his triple bogey on the sixth hole. He shot 69.
Rory McIlroy, the betting favorite coming into the week because of his two victories at Quail Hollow, was motoring along just fine when he birdied the 10th hole to reach 2 under, just two shots behind. One swing changed everything. He hooked his tee shot into the water on the reachable par-4 14th, had to drop in nasty rough and missed a short putt to make double bogey. He failed to birdie the par-5 15th and closed with three pars for 72.
Hideki Matsuyama, Dustin Johnson and Jason Day were among those at 1-under 70.
Phil Mickelson failed to make a single birdie — the second straight major that has happened — and shot 79, his worst score in the PGA Championship. Ernie Els, who might be playing his final PGA, matched his worst score in the championship with 80. He also shot 80 when he was 22, playing his first one at Bellerive in 1992.