By Ken MacLeod
In the midst of a very solid round of ball striking, Talor Gooch managed to avoid a potential catastrophe and, while not taking advantage of all of his birdie opportunities, he did enough to put himself squarely in the hunt.
Playing in the afternoon wave in swirling winds, Gooch fired a 1-under 69, one of the better late rounds and one that left him four shots behind leader Rory McIlroy after the first round of the 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club.
Gooch had three birdies, including one from about 6 feet on his closing hole the par-4 9th, against two bogeys. But it was a par on the par-4 16th that saved his day.
He hit a 5-iron from 210 yards on his second shot that, to his surprise, flew over the green high into the back bunker. He tried to hit a delicate bunker shot from there to barely clear the lip and it only went a few feet and stayed in the bunker. His next shot landed in the hole on the fly, another surprising and this time fortuitous result. Gooch smiled and bowed to the crowd of Oklahoma State and Midwest City supporters who followed his round.
“I hit a 5-iron, and I thought I hit a great shot, and it just air mailed the green, flew 225 instead of 210,” Gooch said. “I was in no-man’s land, so I tried to hit the perfect shot, left it in there, and then I hooped it. It’s nice when you can kind of get away with one like that.
“But it’s like my caddie said, he’s like, you deserved a little something there because we hit too good of a second shot to end up where we ended. But that’s golf, and that’s why they don’t paint pictures on the scorecard.”
After a bogey on 17 moved him to 1-over, Gooch missed a short birdie putt on 18, then stuffed a wedge into 3 feet on the first hole to get back to even. He reached 1-under after pushing his drive into the third fairway on the par-5 fifth hole, blasting a fairway wood over the trees to about 20 yards short of the green, then hitting a nifty pitch to 5 feet for birdie.
He hit another great tee shot on the par-3 sixth hole but missed a 12-foot birdie, then bogeyed 7 after leaving a pitch shot short. With the wind finally dead into him on the ninth hole, he hit an aggressive wedge to 5 feet above the hole and drained that to get into red numbers for the day.
The rest of the players with state ties that played in the afternoon wave did not fare as well. Rickie Fowler shot a 71 while Matthew Wolff shot 76.
In the morning wave, former Oklahoma Sooner Abraham Ancer shot a 3-under 67 and is tied for fourth, while former Cowboys Viktor Hovland and Alex Noren each shot even-par 70.
Gooch, who won for the first time on the PGA Tour last fall at Sea Island, would love to make his second victory a major championship. He said if someone would give him four rounds under par without having to take another shot, considering the unpredictable weather forecast for the next three days, he would likely take it.
“Yeah, for sure,” Gooch said. “Again, I don’t know how many under-par rounds there’s going to be this afternoon, but there won’t be a whole lot. For us to get an under-par round is just — we’re off to a good start.
“I haven’t looked too closely at the next few days of weather because as we know, things can turn on a dime here in Oklahoma. I’ll just figure out the weather as we go.
“But if you were to give me four rounds of under par in a row right now, I might take it and not hit a golf shot and just kind of see where that takes me because this course is not going to get any softer. For being a major championship course the greens were really receptive, and the scores are still what they are. That just shows you how difficult it was playing today.”