KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — Not even strong Atlantic wind could slow down Brad Bryant.
Bryant made it through 31 mph wind gusts Thursday for a 1-under 71 at the Senior PGA Championship, leaving him three shots behind leader Eduardo Romero.
Bryant, who won last week’s Regions Charity Classic in Hoover, Ala., says he drove the ball as well as he had all season to end up one of only two golfers – Massey Kuramoto was the other – with afternoon tee times to break par at The Ocean Course.
“If I can drive the ball three more rounds like I drove it today, the less the wind blows the better for me,” Bryant said.
The forecast calls for calmer conditions the rest of the tournament.
At the start of the year’s first senior major, The Ocean Course reminded everyone why such a prestigious event hadn’t been played here since the 1991 Ryder Cup.
Those matches brought some of the world’s best players to their knees. This one had them throwing their hands up.
Raymond Floyd, waiting to hit, extended his arms out in the blowing wind. Hale Irwin, like Floyd a member of the winning U.S. Ryder Cup team 16 years ago, held his arms out in a deep waste bunker alongside the 16th hole, questioning where his ball was. Turns out it was completely plugged, leading Irwin to an unplayable lie and a triple-bogey 8.
“It’s pretty bizarre out there,” Bryant said.
He’d get little argument from most players.
Tony Jacklin, who has U.S. and British Open titles, was assessed a two-stroke penalty when he incorrectly replaced his ball on the 14th green after the wind had moved it.
Tournament officials did their part to counter the wind, using front tee locations that sliced about 200 yards off the listed course distance of 7,201.
Tom Watson said the placements kept competitors from needing full-blown 3-woods to reach the treacherous 17th, shrunk 19 yards to 178.
“Thank you, very much. They used some common sense, those people at the PGA,” Watson said.
Still, only five of the 156 who teed it up could make birdie on the par 3 – Jim Ahern, Chip Beck, Raymond Floyd, Mark Hayes and Mike Reid.
The round’s scoring average of 77.28 was the highest for an opening round at the Senior PGA since the 78.05 at PGA National in 1992.
Romero took advantage of the smoother morning conditions to post the round’s best score. He was a stroke ahead of Naomichi “Joe” Ozaki (69) and two in front of Beck (70).
Romero had birdies on all four par 5s and looked like he’d have a bogey-free performance until missing a short par putt on No. 18. “Stupid on that,” Romero said. “But it is OK because the day was perfect … very nice.”
Bryant also liked his round, mainly because he and caddie, Tony Smith, spent their practice time measuring how far Bryant’s short irons would fly against the wind. That helped Thursday, Bryant said, because the course puts a premium on precise approaches.
“Today, it was just brutal,” Bryant said. “No matter how good you drove the ball, you had to hit just an almost perfect iron shot to get the ball pin high on some of those holes.”
If the wind slackens, Bryant reasons, he might score even lower than he did in the opening round.
“I knew that if I could keep the same rhythm that I had” in practice, Bryant said. “I knew how far the ball was going to go, which was pretty key today.”
Bryant, though, had one suggestion for the PGA of America. “I have a good friend that works at NASA and he said that maybe next year we could just go ahead and have the tournament in Houston in the wind tunnel,” he said.