Robert Karlsson was almost run off the road Thursday in the automotive capital of the world. And he wasn't even driving.
Karlsson, who has a better cumulative record than anyone in the season's three previous majors, got off to a horrible start when he hit a cart path behind the first green.
But the tall Swede managed to share the clubhouse lead with Jeev Milkha Singh in the first round of the rain-delayed 90th PGA Championship at Oakland Hills Country Club.
Karlsson and Singh were tied at 2-under-par 68. Several other players, including Sergio Garcia and Sean O'Hair, were tied at 69. Phil Mickelson opened with two bogeys but rallied for a 70.
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Andres Romero of Argentina was on the course at 2 under through 16 holes, the only late starter under par and among 18 players who did not finish the first round. Play was delayed about 90 minutes by thunderstorms, and suspended by darkness at about 8:40 p.m.
Karlsson, who has finished no worse than eighth in the majors this year, got off to a horrible start when he got a little too aggressive on the first hole and made a double-bogey.
“On the first hole there, just made a bit of stupidity and got a bad break,” he said. “It bounced on the back edge of the green and hit a cart path and ended up over the back, and that was not the place to be.”
Undaunted, Karlsson birdied the next three holes and six of his next 10. He bogeyed the 14th and 15th, but still put together an exceptional round that could have ended in disaster.
“Well, try to remember that I actually can play golf, even though it didn't look like that on the first hole,” said Karlsson, who has the lowest stroke average on the European Tour. “And actually my caddie said as well that, ‘Remember, we played with Tiger (Woods) in the U.S. Open, and I think he took six down the first hole pretty much every day. So you can shoot a good round from here as well.'
“I was slightly upset, I must say, but I mean it helped obviously with that great two-putt on No. 2. Putted from right in the front of the green and just up and over that little ridge and holed a 10-footer. If that wouldn't have went in, I probably would not have been sitting here now.”
Singh had a slightly less adventurous round. He followed a bogey on the first hole with an eagle on the second. He bogeyed the seventh and 10th holes, then charged up the leader board with birdies on the 15th and 17th .
Singh is not related to two-time PGA champion Vijay Singh. No one bothered him with questions of mistaken identity, but he heard a few guesses earlier this week.
“In the practice rounds I can hear a lot of people say, ‘Oh, I think he's Vijay's son or he's Vijay's brother.' I heard that many times.”
“I just say I'm the other Singh,” he said.
Mickelson started on the 10th hole and got behind early with two opening bogeys. He was up and down for the rest of his first nine holes.
He birdied the par-five 12th, chipped in for par on the 13th but bogeyed the 15th . A 15-foot putt on the 16th and a 4-iron to 18 inches on the difficult 236-yard 17th hole led to birdies. But Mickelson's 4-iron never turned toward the hole on his approach to the 18th and a bogey led to a one-over 36 at the turn.
“I'm just happy to have shot even par today,” he said. “I think that after the start, bogeying the first two holes, I thought it was pretty good to hang in there, fight and make some birdies, because there were a lot of holes that were tough to get to. And yet, if you were patient, there were some pin placements you could get to.”
Mickelson played a steady, and at times spectacular, round the rest of the way. He hit a 9-iron from a fairway bunker to 5 feet to birdie the fourth hole and added another birdie on the fifth. He made an impressive save from shin-deep rough on the seventh and bogeyed the ninth hole .
“I made some good putts there on my backside, which was the front, to get the round to under par, and made some good pars coming in,” he said.
“So I'll gladly take it. I felt like – well, it's always – I felt like I let a few short-game shots get away, which I didn't do last week. So I've got to work on that before tomorrow's round.”