Golf: Harman hits first ball as PGA Championship kicks off in Covid-19 era

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) – The PGA Championship got under way on Thursday morning (Aug 6) with the opening groups teeing off in cool, cloudy conditions at the TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.

The first PGA on the US west coast since 1988 features several mouth-watering story lines including Brooks Koepka chasing history by trying to become the first three-peat PGA major winner in almost a century and Tiger Woods restarting his quest to try and catch Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors.

Both Woods, who has 15 majors, and Koepka were early starters, although not in the same group.

Woods is teeing off with Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas, and Koepka highlights a trio of majors winners that includes Shane Lowry and Gary Woodland.

Thomas is competing as the No. 1 player in the world and former number one McIlroy is trying to win a major for the first time since 2014.

American Brian Harman stepped up to the par-four No. 1 and drove his ball to the right side of the fairway in the first major of 2020 and the first in the Covid-19 era.

Heading into Thursday’s opening round, the early reports on the Harding Park course is that it is tough but fair.

Officials spent three months reshaping the manicured municipal course, narrowing the fairways and growing out the thick seaweed rough that will reward precision shots, but punish long hitters if they stray off the fairway.

Golf’s first major championship of the year will be contested without spectators after the season was placed on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Prior to its postponement on March 17, the PGA Championship was originally scheduled for play May 14-17.

Over 300 players and caddies were tested for the virus before the start of the event. Players also undergo daily temperature screenings and their clubhouse has been redesigned to allow for 3m of space between lockers.

The US PGA Tour has been back, minus spectators, since early June but really kicks into high gear starting this week.

The PGA marks the beginning of a condensed 11-month span that will see the players compete for seven major championships.

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