US PGA Championship 2020 First Round Leader: Lowry can land early spoils

Ireland's Shane Lowry
Ireland's Shane Lowry can start fast

Dave Tindall has three selections to make a fast start at Harding Park in the first major of 2020...

"If just dealing in majors, he's been in the top four after day one in four of them so Lowry is no stranger to a prominent place on the leaderboard when the dust has settled on Thursday's play at these ultimate tests."

Each-way terms: 1/5 odds, 6 places

Weather forecast for Harding Park, San Francisco: Before looking at Thursday's weather, these Golf Digest quotes paint an accurate picture. "On Tuesday at Harding Park, it was sweater-vests and gloves. Beanies (see Erik Van Rooyen below) and hand warmers. The sun didn't even consider showing itself. Temperatures hovered in the mid-50s. The ocean breeze made it feel 10 degrees colder. The ground was wet to the touch. And the ball went nowhere." That's San Francisco in the summer. As for Thursday, it'll be in the high 50s for the morning starters and increase to around 65 in the afternoon. The other key is that the wind picks up from around 5mph in the morning to 15mph-20mph in the afternoon.

First-round leader history:

Well, there isn't much of use. Colin Montgomerie (64) was the R1 leader when the 2005 WGC-American Express Championship was held at Harding but only 71 players started so tee-times were cramped. How about the 2019 US Open at nearby Pebble? Justin Rose, an afternoon starter, led there after making birdie at his final three holes. Of the four who shared second spot after 18 holes, two were morning starters and two went off in the afternoon.


Another comment now from Brooks Koepka: "The rough out here is pretty thick. You can get some pretty juicy lies and not advance it very far. But it all depends. Is it going to be wet? I think it will be, especially in the mornings." True, it will get warmer later on but the wind is forecast to pick up considerably. However, I've been stung before by putting all my eggs in one basket so, although I'm favouring the early wave, I'll pick two morning starters and hold one back for the afternoon.

Look to Lowry to start fast

We don't have much to go on in terms of history but here's an exchange from one of Tuesday's press conferences:

Q: "A lot of talk here at Harding Park about the marine layer and how the ball is not travelling as much. How does that affect you?"

Hideki Matsuyama: "You're absolutely right. It is going to be difficult to judge. It's probably the coldest PGA Championship we've ever experienced, and it will be difficult."

So, taking that line of thought and the earlier comments about weather, it's interesting that the two R1 leaders mentioned above - Monty (Harding Park 2005) and Rose (Pebble Beach 2019) - are GB and Ireland players, used to colder climes.

So perhaps it isn't the worst shout to put up another as my main selection and one who fits the bill is Shane Lowry.

In terms of relevant day one performances, he was second after 18 holes before winning the 2019 Open, had a piece of the first-round lead at windy Hilton Head last year, was T8 after day one at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in 2018 and third following the opening lap of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in 2017.

If just dealing in majors, he's been in the top four after day one in four of them so Lowry is no stranger to a prominent place on the leaderboard when the dust has settled on Thursday's play at these ultimate tests.

He heads to Harding Park on the back of a confidence-boosting T6 at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude last week and his right-to-left ball shape should serve him well here.

Lowry had a look at it previously when all his matches (v Graeme McDowell, Rickie Fowler and Harris English) went to the 18th hole in the 2015 WGC-Match Play and now he returns as a major champion.

Having signed off the last major at the top of the leaderboard, there would be some nice symmetry if he occupies first place in the first one back after the delayed schedule.

He heads out with fellow 2019 major winners Brooks Koepka and Gary Woodland at 08:11 from the 10th.

Fleetwood can fly on day one

Tommy Fleetwood Harding Park.jpg

I'll add a second GB and Ireland player by picking Tommy Fleetwood.

Beyond his birthplace - although growing up by the links in Southport obviously helps - Fleetwood has plenty of other things to recommend him.

One is price and 60/1 looks generous for a player of his talent.

The Englishman was third after round one in two of the last three majors, starting out with 67 in this event at Bethpage Black and 68 at Royal Portrush.

And to show he can hit the front quickly in big events, Fleetwood was R1 leader at the 2019 Players Championship.

He had some rust to shift after not resuming his schedule until late July but following a missed cut at the 3M Open and a slow start at St. Jude he fired a 67 in round two and then ended with a closing 65.

Practising at windy, coastal Shinnecock before his return could help him further and he already has good memories of TPC Harding Park having reached the quarter-finals of the 2015 WGC-Matchplay there when seeded 54th and not the force he is now.

He's an afternoon starter at 13.36pm local and, even if there is wind, Fleetwood has the skills to score well in it.

Vote Van Rooyen

Erik Van Rooyen 2020.jpg

I'll head back to the morning wave for my final pick.

I looked at 100/1 Michael Thompson, a recent winner who was the R1 leader over the road at Olympic Club when it staged the 2012 US Open.

However, he had some strong history there and that short track (he's 179th in Driving Distance this season) was more up his street.

So, instead, I'll back Erik Van Rooyen at 90/1.

The South African - Paul Krishnamurty's each-way selection - is starting to build some strong form in big events. He was T8 in this tournament last year and third in February's WGC-Mexico while he finished fast (68-65) to bank a top 20 at St. Jude on Sunday.

Van Rooyen loves golf by the coast and has made the top 20 in the last two Open Championships. The good news for this bet is that he was second after 18 holes at Carnoustie two years ago.

He drove the ball really well at St. Jude and tweeted later: "Memphis was great. I didn't get to meet Elvis, yet we still jammed out like the king himself. I absolutely love making gains and feeling like we're moving forward. @PGAChampionship here we come!"

Soon after he accepted Special Temporary Membership of the PGA Tour for the rest of the season, which was enough to earn a retweet and two smiley faces.

Things are looking up for EVR and hopefully he can make a strong start from his 07:33 tee time.

Staked: £510
Returned: £345.91
P/L: -£134.09

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