Photo: Martin Kaymer was all smiles in the press room after shooting a 4-under par 66 Thursday. Photo: Lawrence Aylward
SPRINGFIELD, NEW JERSEY — Baltusrol Golf Club’s famed Lower Course beat up on some of the world’s best golfers Thursday — and took it on the chin from others.
During the first round of the PGA Championship, the Lower Course, playing 7,450 yards at par 70, held its own, even though more than 30 players finished under par. The leader, Jimmy Walker, shot a 5-under-par 65. Several players were 2- and 1-under par, including No. 1-ranked Jason Day, who shot a 68.
But Dustin Johnson, winner of the 2016 U.S. Open and ranked second in the world, shot a 7-over-par 77 and is in danger of missing the cut. Fourth-ranked Rory McIlroy also has some work to do today after finishing 4-over par.
Johnson had never played Baltusrol until a practice round on Tuesday.
“I like the golf course. I think it’s in really good shape. I feel like it sets up well for me,” Johnson said after his round.
Johnson noted the Lower Course’s length and the importance of driving the ball straight. But the big hitter had big trouble doing that Thursday. Johnson couldn’t command his driver and missed an astounding seven of 14 fairways and saw his ball land in some nasty rough.
Mark Kuhns, Baltusrol’s director of grounds, said one of the Lower Course’s best defenses for the tournament would be its rough. The intermediate rough is about 1.25 inches the first 8 feet outside of the fairway, and the next cut is about 3.5 inches and also extends out 8 feet.
“Beyond that is what we call the cabbage patch, which is maintained at 5 to 6 inches,” Kuhns said.
Johnson just might have nightmares about that cabbage patch.
As much trouble as Johnson had keeping the ball in play, Martin Kaymer seemingly couldn’t miss a fairway even if he wanted to. Watch out for the German, who shot a 4-under 66 and was all smiles in the interview room after his round.
“I just didn’t miss many fairways and therefore created some birdie chances,” Kaymer said.
Kaymer, a two-time major champion, called Baltusrol an “old-style course.” He said it hasn’t changed much since the PGA Championship was played at Baltusrol in 2005. Not that he is complaining.
“I really enjoyed playing that golf course today,” he added.