Date: July 29, 2016
Author: Mark Hayes

Hend, Day, Sendo lead Aussie tilt

Three Australians are within three shots of the lead as Baltusrol took full toll on some wayward stars to begin the US PGA Championship.

Jason Day, Olympic-bound Scott Hend and evergreen John Senden all fired two-under-par rounds of 68 to trail Jimmy Walker at five under at the top end of an unusual leaderboard.

But on a day when most of the best scores were recorded early, a handful of favourites effectively bowed out of contention with rounds they’d sooner forget.

Most notably, world No.2 Dustin Johnson, the US Open champion and only player within reach of No.1 Day in the world rankings mustered just one birdie against two double-bogeys and four bogeys as he crashed from contention with a 77.

Not quite as bad was No.4 Rory McIlroy who, for only the fourth time in his major championship career, endured a round without a birdie en route to a 74 that “featured” no less than 35 putts.

And for a long time, No.3 Jordan Spieth might also have played himself out of a winning hope. But true to the Texan’s fighting spirit, he knuckled down with two birdies in his final round to keep his dream alive at even par.

Of the nine-strong Aussie contingent, only really Matt Jones (74) wouldn’t consider himself in the mix with resurgent Aaron Baddeley joining Adam Scott on even-par 70, Marcus Fraser alongside Marc Leishman at  71 and Greg Chalmers on 72.

Day was very happy with a round in which he hit 17 greens in regulation, even though he couldn’t buy a putt, missing six inside 4m.

“I'm very excited about how I hit it today," the Queenslander said.

"I hit a lot of good quality shots and it hasn't been like that lately. To be able to go out there and hit it exactly where I'm (aiming) and see the shot and what I need to do and actually execute it was exciting for me.

“Really positive stuff going into the next three rounds."

Hend could easily have been higher, but strangely missed out on a birdie on either of the two closing par-fives after missing drives left and right on the 17th and 18th, respectively.

Senden began on the 10th hole and had it to three under after his first nine holes, but had to rely on a brilliant tee shot to the long par-three ninth to get back to two under for his round.

Of the other big names, Henrik Stenson continued his stellar form with an opening 67, one behind the polished Martin Kaymer and one ahead of Rickie Fowler. Both Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson fired rounds of 71.