By Chris Kudialis
Special to The Tuscaloosa News
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Narrow fairways and speedy greens at the lengthened Quail Hollow Club caused trouble for former Crimson Tide star Justin Thomas Thursday in the first round of the PGA Championship.
Thomas, who led Alabama to the 2013 championship, carded a 2-over 73 after hitting only seven of 14 fairways in what he called a “real struggle” of a round.
“I just stroked it poorly today,” Thomas said. “I had good position, I just didn’t take advantage of my opportunities.”
Thomas started the day with a birdie after sinking an 8-foot putt on the par-5 10th hole. But errant drives on the par-4 11th and 12th holes resulted in back-to-back bogeys.
Thomas carded birdies on the par-5 15th and par-4 second holes, and bogeys on the par-3 17th and fourth holes before finishing with a tap-in birdie after nearly holing out for eagle from 185 yards on the par-4 ninth hole.
Despite the mild, wind-free conditions, Thomas said the course made Thursday’s round especially challenging.
“This is a very, very hard golf course right now,” he said of the 7,588 yard host course, lengthened almost 200 yards from the last time it was used for a PGA Tour event in 2015.
Despite Thursday’s less-than-stellar round, Thomas sat just six strokes behind leader Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark through the first half of the tournament’s 156-player field finishing their opening rounds.
The 24-year-old called Thursday’s birdie finish “important,” adding he felt confident in his ability to contend in majors after nearly winning the U.S. Open in June. Thomas finished ninth in that tournament and tied a then-major championship single round record after shooting 63 in the third round at Erin Hills.
It’ll take another such round for Thomas, a four-time PGA Tour winner to bring home his first major championship trophy on Sunday, he said.
“The ball is going really far in these conditions and the opportunity is there,” he said. “It’s a huge advantage hitting wedge into the green instead of eight or nine iron. I just need to make sure I get in the fairways first.”