A bizarre day at the PGA Championship that started near dawn, ended after dusk and meandered down some weird roads clogged with rain, lightning and bare legs finally ended with a putt that wasn’t supposed to go in.
“I was just lagging it,” first-round leader Kenny Perry said of the 20-foot birdie he made in the fading light on No. 18 to finish at 6-under-par 66 on Thursday, one-stroke better than defending champion Steve Elkington. “It was pretty dark and I couldn’t see.”
It was a fitting finish made all the more appropriate by the fact that Perry is from Franklin, Ky., just 120 miles down the road from Valhalla Golf Club.
The wacky day started when the first group teed off at 7:20 a.m. It took its first odd turn at 8:41 when two caddies showed up in shorts, defying the rule against them because of the extreme heat and humidity.
Then things really veered out of control in mid-afternoon when a massive electrical storm stopped play for four hours. Play finally crawled to a conclusion with Perry taking the lead as he finished in the dark in the last group of the day.
It was truly the stuff legends are made of. And Norse legend has it that Valhalla is the hall of heroes. That was true on this sweltering day when a collection of past PGA Championship heroes jammed the leaderboard.
The last four winners of this tournament were bunched within four strokes of Perry.
Nick Price, who won the PGA in 1992 and ‘94 was two strokes back at 68, along with Marks Brooks, Joel Edwards and Russ Cochran.
And Paul Azinger, who hasn’t won anything since he captured the 1993 PGA Championship, was in a knot of five players four strokes back at 70.
“I haven’t given up the trophy yet,” said Elkington, who is trying to become the first repeat winner of the PGA since Denny Shute in 1936-37. “I just feel like I am in the right frame of mind to play well here this week.”
Play was finally called for good shortly after 8:30 with 60 players still on the course, including Phil Mickelson at 6-under through 12 holes and Ian Woosnam at 5-under through 14 holes.
Greg Norman, Ernie Els, Fred Couples, Colin Montgomerie and Davis Love III were among the top contenders who didn’t finish.
Among those finishing were Masters champion Nick Faldo, who was at 69 along with five other players.
Perry, who closed the front nine with three consecutive birdies to shoot a 31, lost some momentum because of the delay.
“I was going so good the first 10 holes - hit a pretty good drive on No. 10 - then after the delay I came out a little bit out of rhythm, a little bit out of synch,” Perry said. “The greens slowed up to me a little bit.”
But after making a bogey on No. 12 he got back on track and birdied Nos. 13 and 18.
The weather left players drenched in sweat. British Open champion Tom Lehman, who shot a 71, looked as if he had spilled a gallon of water down the back of his pants.
The conditions also left the players searching for solutions to the heat.
Tom Watson was sweating through his gloves and had to change them every few holes. Faldo needed to constantly put resin on his hands.
“That’s going to be the key factor this week if it continues,” Faldo said about the heat.
Elkington said the better-conditioned players will hang on the best.
“You feel yourself sort of wobble a little bit with the legs coming up some of these hills into some of the later holes,” Elkington said. “Your arms are a little shaky just because you’re kind of getting into like a dehydrated, been-out-in-the-sun-type too long.”
The sticky weather also created a sticky situation when Andy Martinez, caddie for Lehman, and Scott Jones, who carries for his brother Steve, the U.S. Open winner, showed up in shorts.
They were confronted by a PGA officials on the second tee and told them to change to long pants on the spot or leave the course.
They complied and officials later said the rule against shorts would not be changed.
xxxx LEADERBOARD First round of PGA championship: Kenny Perry 31-35-66 Steve Elkington 34-33-67 Mark Brooks 36-32-68 Nick Price 35-33-68 Russ Cochran 32-36-68 Joel Edwards 34-34-68
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