American Jimmy Walker set the clubhouse target of five under in the US PGA Championship as the Irish contingent found the going tough.
Padraig Harrington was the only Irishman inside the would-be cut mark of +1 after his 71, with Shane Lowry next best on two over. Three-time major winner Harrington hit three birdies while Lowry managed two. World number four Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell both failed to score a single birdie as they struggled to four-over par, with Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke also on 74 after an uneven round.
Walker carded six birdies and a solitary bogey in an impressive 65 in sweltering conditions at Baltusrol, with temperatures in the mid 30s forcing tournament officials to water the greens during play. Argentinian Emiliano Grillo and England’s Ross Fisher increased the prospects of a clean sweep for first-time major winners in 2016. Fisher’s 66 was his lowest round in any major and left him sharing second place with Grillo and 2010 champion Martin Kaymer on four under par, with Andy Sullivan a shot further back alongside Harris English, James Hahn and British Open champion Henrik Stenson.
The last year in which all four majors were claimed by first-time winners was 2011, when Charl Schwartzel won the US Masters, McIlroy the US Open, Darren Clarke the Open and Keegan Bradley the US PGA. So far this season, Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson and Stenson have claimed the game’s biggest titles.
With the wind picking up late in the afternoon, former champion Kaymer was the only player able to threaten Walker’s lead before settling for a four-under-par 66. Defending champion Jason Day was three shots off the lead after returning a 68 despite having just one practice round, but two-time winner and playing partner McIlroy struggled to a 74 which included 35 putts. The final member of the marquee group, Open runner-up Phil Mickelson, recovered from four over par after 11 holes with three late birdies to return a 71.
England’s Andrew Johnston returned a level-par 70. Johnston, who has become better known by his nickname ‘Beef’, said: “It was good. My putter was so cold early on today, I had some absolute shockers. Wasn’t happy the way I pace putted, but I knew I was driving the ball well and I could give myself chances. I just kind of hung in there.”