Australian Matt Jones has seen his early lead in the 103rd US PGA Championship disappear, as he plummeted down the leaderboard following a brutal finish to his opening round at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course.
Despite coming into the tournament with what he called an “awfully poor swing” Jones found himself four-under and out in front of the pack through 14 holes on Thursday before Kiawah’s intense closing stretch bared its teeth.
With wind blowing over 20mph directly into his face, Jones played the last four holes in bogey, bogey, double bogey, bogey to end up with a one-over 73.
He wasn’t alone in his struggles as 18, 15 and 17 rated as the hardest holes on the course for the morning wave, averaging well over par.
Another former Australian Open champion in Cameron Davis also started hot with two early birdies to sit two-under through five holes while the country’s highest-ranked player Cameron Smith was even at the turn.
Earlier, Jones had opened with five straight pars on the front side of the course on Thursday before getting into red figures with a 14-foot birdie at the sixth hole.
The Sydney native and two-time Australian Open winner backed that up with another at the par-five seventh to make the turn at two-under before further birdies on the 11th and 13th holes.
Looking to survive, Jones was unable to hold it all together as he lost a few shots to the left into tough spots.
“Experience-wise, this is as ready as I’ve ever been at a major but the way I’m playing right now is awful,” Jones told AAP.
“My swing feels awfully poor and it’s been really hard not seeing my coach in a year and a half because of the pandemic.
“My expectations are very low. You have to be able to control your trajectory and ball flight in these conditions and that’s what I am struggling with.
“I can’t start it on the line I want to. But hopefully I can find some lightning in a bottle.”
Despite the collapse, Jones sat just four shots off the early clubhouse lead set by four-time major winner Brooks Koepka, young Norwegian star Viktor Hovland, American Aaron Wise, and 2011 PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley.
The foursome all scratched out impressive three-under 69s, while Branden Grace, of South Africa, was also three-under through just nine holes in the afternoon wave.
Jason Scrivener, a regular on the European Tour, matched his compatriot Jones with a 73 while Marc Leishman battled his way to a two-over 74.
Former world no.1 Jason Day, the 2015 PGA champion, was two over through 10 holes, despite making eagle on the seventh.
Former Masters champion Adam Scott’s opening tee shot was a shocker, sailing right into a water hazard on the par-four 10th. Before he had a chance to settle any nerves, he was writing down a triple-bogey seven on his scorecard on his way to a six-over 78.
Lucas Herbert was quickly finding life hard as he slipped to three-over through six holes.