Golf

Olesen, Kisner share lead after opening round of PGA Championship

Thorbjorn Olesen smiles as he watches his drive from the 17th tee box during the first round of the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C. on Thursday.
Thorbjorn Olesen smiles as he watches his drive from the 17th tee box during the first round of the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C. on Thursday. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Thorbjorn Olesen stopped using his given first name in school because there were other classmates also named Jacob. He prefers his middle name, Thorbjorn, which is a lot less common.

If he continues playing the way he did Thursday in the first round of the 99th PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club, he’ll make more of a name for himself, whatever he chooses that to be.

Olesen, a 27-year-old from Denmark who is 78th in the Official World Golf Ranking, shot a 4-under 67 and is tied with Kevin Kisner of Aiken for the 18-hole lead.

Kisner rolled in a curling 21-foot birdie putt on the 18th early in the evening to tie Olesen, who posted his round in the morning.

Five players are a stroke behind at 68: reigning U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, Gary Woodland, Chris Stroud, D.A. Points and Grayson Murray of Raleigh, N.C.

Many of the top-ranked players in the world are lurking close behind. Ricky Fowler, Paul Casey and Patrick Reed are among seven players two shots back in a tie for eighth, and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama, Jason Day, Louis Oosthuizen and Tommy Fleetwood are among the players tied for 15th at 1-under 70.

Kisner, whose two PGA Tour wins have come in 2016 and 2017, birdied three consecutive holes on the front nine and closed with three birdies in his final five holes.

“There's about four or five holes that I have to birdie to compete and I birdied them all today,” Kisner said. “So that's kind of been my game plan. Make a lot of pars and get to a par-5 or one of those short par 4s, I can do my wedge game and get it to 10 or 12 feet. That's my plan. Other than that, I'm playing for par.”

There’s about four or five holes that I have to birdie to compete and I birdied them all today. So that's kind of been my game plan. Make a lot of pars and get to a par-5 or one of those short par 4s, I can do my wedge game and get it to 10 or 12 feet. That's my plan. Other than that, I'm playing for par.

Kevin Kisner

Kisner is not among the longer hitters on the PGA Tour, and Quail Hollow has been stretched to 7,600 yards with recent renovations. It has also been fortified with thick rough on the outskirts of fairways.

“I’m going to say every course we play is a bomber’s course anymore. But if they are not playing from the fairway, I wouldn’t want to be doing it. …The greens are so firm, you can’t control your spin. If I can just keep hitting fairways, I’m going to like my chances.”

Having grown up a few hours from Charlotte, Kisner was a lot more at ease on Quail Hollow’s fast, undulating and tricky greens than most of his competitors.

“I love the greens,” Kisner said. “I just feel so comfortable. I don’t feel like I have to read it and over read it. I can stand up and putt like I’ve grown up doing.”

Kisner has played in 11 majors with a top finish of 12th, and he tied for 18th in last year’s PGA Championship at Baltusrol.

Olesen made six birdies and two bogeys Thursday.

“I was driving the ball very, very well, and that made it a bit easier,” Olesen said. “Coming in with some short irons into these greens was definitely the key to the round.”

He one-putted his final six holes, draining three putts longer than 12 feet including a 28-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole.

Olesen has won four times on the European Tour, including once in each of the past three seasons, but he’s still searching for his first win of 2017. He has been consistent with seven straight made cuts that include a pair of top-five finishes early in that stretch and a tie for 10th Sunday in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

“I feel like the last two months, I feel like I've been playing very well without getting any really results,” Olesen said. “I had a good week in France, but besides that, I haven't really had the results. But I felt like I was playing very well, and felt like at the Open I came into that week with a lot of confidence because my game was in such good shape. But I didn't really get it going at any point.”

Olesen has played in four PGA Championships in the past five years and has made three cuts with a top finish of 27th.

He has played in 13 majors overall and recorded a pair of top-10s in the 2012 British Open and 2013 Masters.

“I've had some good rounds in majors, and I feel like I've learned a lot over the years playing quite a few majors now,” Olesen said. “I feel like I'm better prepared to be in contention over the weekend and have a chance to win. I feel more confident with myself and my game than I probably did a few years ago.”

Alan Blondin: 843-626-0284, @alanblondin

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