Berliner TageBlatt - Japan's Higa grabs early lead at PGA Championship

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Japan's Higa grabs early lead at PGA Championship
Japan's Higa grabs early lead at PGA Championship / Foto: © AFP

Japan's Higa grabs early lead at PGA Championship

Kazuki Higa, last year's Japan Tour leading money winner, reeled off four consecutive birdies to seize an early three-stroke lead in Thursday's opening round of the PGA Championship.


The 28-year-old from Okinawa, a six-time winner on his home-nation circuit, had a horseshoe birdie lip-out at the 10th hole to begin his round then roared to the top of the leaderboard at Oak Hill.

World number 99 Higa, making his PGA Championship debut, answered with a 12-foot birdie putt at the par-3 11th and added a birdie putt at the par-4 12th from just outside 34 feet, the ball hanging on the edge before dropping into the hole.

At the par-5 13th, Higa landed his approach just inside 10 feet and sank his birdie putt, then put his approach inside three feet at 14 to set up his fourth consecutive birdie putt and reach 4-under.

No one else was batter than 1-under in the early going in pursuit of Higa, who followed with pars at 15 and 16.

Back-nine starter Scott Stallings, an American whose most recent of three PGA Tour titles came in 2014 at Torrey Pines, eagled the par-4 10th, holing out from 128 yards off the heart of the fairway. But a bogey at the par-5 13th dropped him back.

New Zealand's Ryan Fox, a three-time winner on the DP World Tour, birdied the par-4 second and par-5 fourth holes but stumbled with a bogey at the par-3 fifth.

Frost delayed the start of the round by one hour and 50 minutes, leaving a pack of stars teeing off the 10th hole to just take the course as Higa heated up.

World number one Jon Rahm, the reigning Masters champion, started with a birdie at the 10th hole while reigning British Open champion Cameron Smith of Australia and reigning US Open champion Matthew Fitzpatrick of England opened with pars at 10.

Spaniard Rahm, who has taken four PGA Tour titles this year, would be halfway to a calendar-year Grand Slam with a victory at Oak Hill and needing only a British Open to complete the career Slam.

World number 10 Jordan Spieth would complete a career Slam with a triumph at Oak Hill. He only decided to play on the eve of the event after testing his injured left wrist for two days at Oak Hill.

Spieth, who opened at 10 with a bogey, hopes to join a list of those to win all four majors that includes Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen.

World number two Scottie Scheffler, who if he wins would overtake Rahm as world number one, began on the back nine with three pars.

- McIlroy opens with pars -

Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy began on the back side with back-to-back pars.

McIlroy has not won a major since the 2014 PGA and took a mental health break after missing the cut at the Masters, where he had a chance to complete a career Slam.

Defending champion Justin Thomas birdied the 10th and parred 11 to start.

There are 16 players from the Saudi-financed LIV Golf League in the lineup, including six major winners.

LIV began last June and lured some big names from the PGA Tour with record $25 million purses. The tour banned LIV players from its events and a court fight between them is due for trial in a year.

In the meantime, majors have allowed LIV players who meet qualifying standards to play, making them the only events where stars from the breakaway series can compete with the PGA Tour's top talent.

The LIV lineup at Oak Hill includes Smith, four-time major winner Brooks Koepka, two-time major winner Dustin Johnson and six-time major champion Phil Mickelson, who won the 2021 PGA aged 50 to become the oldest-ever major champion.