PGA leader Conners makes early start at windy Kiawah

Kiawah Island (United States) (AFP) –


PGA Championship leader Corey Conners was set for an early start as Friday's second round began at wind-swept Kiawah Island with the Canadian chasing his first major title.

Conners fired a five-under par 67 on Thursday to grab a two-stroke edge and was due out in the fourth group off the 10th tee at 7:38 a.m. (1138 GMT) alongside England's Matthew Fitzpatrick and American Tony Finau.

"There's nothing I want to do differently," Conners said. "I didn't really make any mistakes out there. A lot of good putts. Drove it well, ironed it well and got up-and-down a couple times really nicely."

Conners would like to match his hot start from day one, when he birdied three of the first seven holes in severe winds on the Ocean Course, holing putts of 32 and 33 feet in the span.

"I hit a lot of really good shots and holed some nice putts early in the round, and that really helped boost the confidence," Conners said.

World number 39 Conners also led after 18 holes in March at Bay Hill, where he finished a season-best third. He was also seventh at the Players Championship, shared eighth in last month's Masters and finished fourth at the nearby US PGA Heritage tournament.

A second-place pack on 69 included four-time major winner Brooks Koepka, 2011 PGA winner Keegan Bradley, fellow American Aaron Wise, Norway's 11th-ranked Viktor Hovland, England's Sam Horsfield and Australian Cam Davis.

Horsfield, a 24-year-old from Manchester coming off a back injury, starts in the third group off the first tee while Davis, a 26-year-old from Sydney, is in the penultimate group off the 10th tee in the morning wave.

Two-time US Open champion Koepka, who plays through pain after right knee surgery in March, bounced back from an opening double bogey at 10 with six birdies to put himself in contention for a third PGA crown in four years.

Koepka, Davis and Hovland were three of the top five players Thursday in strokes gained on approach shots, a crucial area given the sandy waste areas and gusting winds on the coastal layout. All three were set for afternoon starts.

Three reigning major champions were set to tee off together late, with defending champion Collin Morikawa on 70, US Open winner Bryson DeChambeau on 72 and Masters winner Hideki Matsuyama of Japan on 73.

Other early starters include Jordan Spieth, who opened on 73 in quest of a victory that would complete a career Grand Slam, and fellow Americans Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.

Mickelson, a group behind Conners, opened on 70 as the 50-year-old US lefthander chases a sixth major triumph, one that would make him the oldest major winner in history.

World number one Johnson, a home-state hero, opened with a 76 to join a host of big names struggling just to make the cut to the low 70 and ties.

- Garbage 'hole-in-one' -

Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, who won the 2012 PGA at Kiawah, and second-ranked Justin Thomas both began on 75 to share 77th. They will start in the afternoon.

Only one opening round was literally garbage, however, and it belonged to Colombia's Sebastian Munoz, who fired a 77 Thursday that included a unique "hole-in-one."

Munoz hit his tee shot at the par-4 18th on the fly into a garbage bag in a spectator area next to a hospitality tent. He was given a free drop and made par on the hole and gave a spectator the trashy ball.

Tournament officials announced a top prize of $2.16 million (1.76 million euros) from a total purse of $12 million.