It was Rory, Rickie and the rookie who caught most of the attention in the afternoon wave in Thursday’s first round of the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow.
In the end, Rickie Fowler – in search of his first major championship – outplayed the other two equally famous members of his grouping.
Fowler shot 2-under 69 on Thursday and is two shots back of the lead held by Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen.
The rookie – Spain’s Jon Rahm, a 22-year-old from Arizona State in his first year on the PGA Tour – shot 1-under 70 and is three shots back of the lead. Rahm, who won the Farmers Insurance Open for his first Tour victory, is playing in his first PGA Championship.
And Rory McIlroy, who has four major championship titles on his resume, slipped on his way to the end of his round to post a 1-over 72.
Fowler, who won the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow for his first PGA Tour victory – in a playoff that included McIlroy – overcame a major stumble early in his round to get to 69.
After making birdies on the par-4 third and par-3 fourth, Fowler got entangled at the par-4 fifth. He took two to get out of a fairway bunker and chopped his way to the green and a triple-bogey 7. Fowler made four birdies and a bogey the rest of the round.
“Well, I mean, I got off to a great start, just making birdies on 3 and 4,” Fowler said. “Made a lot of good swings to start. On 5, I just kind of – a little mental mistake – forgot a swing cue I usually think of and missed the drive. Kind of compounded from having that mistake.
“Like I said, I got off to a good start. Made a lot of really good swings. Just have to put that behind me and move on.”
Rahm was 3 under for his round after birdies at the 14th and 15th, but fell victim to the Green Mile at Quail Hollow, making bogeys at the par-4 16th and par-3 17th to fall back to 1 under.
“(Fowler and McIlroy) have played decent on this course before,” Rahm said. “Obviously the record they both have is amazing. To be able to see the different strategies they use, it's always going to be helpful. I tried to focus on my game more than theirs.”
McIlroy was 2 under for his round when he tripped over the par-3 13th with a bogey. And he made a mess of the short par-4 14th when he pull-hooked his tee shot into the water trying to drive the green. A penalty shot and two chips led to a double bogey.
“Obviously, I hit it in the water, but it was the first chip shot that was the disappointing thing,” McIlroy said. “I still could have made a par from that and moved on. But no, the play, it was the right play. Especially for that back pin. I just didn't execute it properly.”