Jack Nicklaus shot 79. Gary Player four-putted the first green. Steve Melnyk, with a chance to gain the early lead coming to the last hole, suffered a quardruple-bogey 8. There were two rain delays, the second one needlessly.
Other than that, the opening round of the 60th PGA Championship went off routinely yesterday. Tom Watson finally introduced some sense to the proceedings by early evening, struggling through the showers to post a four-under-par 67 and lead by one stroke over Dave Stockton.
Ben Crenshaw and Dave Hill scooted in with 69s early. Lee Trevino and Johnny Miller joined them late. Deadlocked at 70 were Billy Kratzert. Jerry McGee, defending champion Lanny Wadkins, Mike Sullivan, Mike Korley, Rex Caldwell and Phil Hancock.
Watson 1977 Masters and British Open champion, recorded six birdies and two bogeys on Oakmont's treacherous greens. Stockton, 1970 and 1976 PGA winner, was bogey-free, with three birdies.
"The rain, which first stopped us (for 78 minutes) on the second hole and then again (for 18 minutes) on the 16th tee obviously gave us a big advantage over those who played early," Watson noted. "You could throw the ball right at the hole, after it rained; you could stop the ball on the greens, even though they lost little of their speed. Those who played earlier couldn't do that."
Watson, Stockton and Trevino will play in the same threesome again today and again will enjoy an advantage in that the greens will hold better before the sun dries them out for those who tee off in the afternoon. They tee off at 8:57. Crenshaw and Hill go off at 12:51 and 1:18, respectively.
Crenshaw, has been playing well lately. Hill hasn't.
"I guess you should be satisfied with two under for the first round of any PGA," Crenshaw said, "but I bogeyed two of the last three holes. Maybe that's what's left a bad taste in my mouth, so I'm not really that pleased. I didn't hit my approach putts well and I had two three-putts. The one on the third hole, from 15 feet, was sheer stupidity."
Crenshaw tied for second in the British Open. Yesterday, he threatened, briefly, to take a big lead over this field, going four under through the first seven holes with a string of birdies that began on the fourth. A nine-iron to within six inches of the cup on No. 5 was perhaps his finest shot of the round, but the short game let him down on 16 and 18 when he wound up two-putting from 10 to 12 feet.
"I left myself too many 2 1/2-to-three-foot putts, and they are not any fun at Oakmont," the 26-year-old Texan declared. "You have to be content, though, with a lot of two-putts here. This is a patience-type course."
Crenshaw is a brilliant putter, perhaps the best on the tour. That talent will hold him in excellent stead on Oakmont's ultrafast greens. He has never been known for his patience, however, particularly when his driving becomes erratic, as it often does.
The rain delay came a few minutes after Hill finished, with Crenshaw already in the clubhouse.
"A man has to believe in miracles, to play as inconsistently as I did and yet to score as well as I did," said Hill who had trouble hitting the fairways. "That's the way it's been for some time now. I can practice with my driver beautifully. When I get to the first tee, I can't get it across the street."
Everything Hill hit with his driver darted off to the right. His three-wood was a little better. The outspoken 41-year-old veteran from Denver was in five bunkers and scrambling much of the morning, only to repeatedly rescue himself with good pitching and superb putting.
Hill does not expect the miracle to continue.
"Not the way I'm stroking the ball," he said. "I've been playing as much customer golf, PR golf, as I have tournament golf lately. That's what I did last week. I've made the cut at only two of the 11 tournaments I've been in this year. It's been tough. Like, today, my wife said to me on 14 to 'slow it down' and I slowed my swing on the next shot so much it could looked like I was in a coma. But I made a 12-footer for a birdie on that hole."
Hill's last victory was in the 1976 Greater Milwaukee Open. His finest finish in 1977 was a tie for 10th in Philadelphia. This year, he's picked up one check.
"I'll be back on the tour if I start swinging good again," Hill remarked. "Right now, the PGA is about the only tournament I made regularly. The Open this year was typical of how my game's been: between the doubles and the triples, I beat hell out of the ball."
Nicklaus played as poorly from tee to green as Hill did, and paid the price. The pre-tournament favorite had to sink a three-foot putt on 18 to escape 80.
"I've been in the 80s before in the majors," Nicklaus said, "at Troon and Hazeltine, to remember two quickly. My 82 at Pebble (Beach) wasn't in a major, and I know I had a 79 at Augusta one year when I missed the cut."
Nicklaus' troubles began on the first tee, when he pulled his drive. He pulled a three-wood on the second tee, the ball coming to rest against a spruce tree, from where he had to swing left-handed to get back out - into more trouble - and double-bogeyed to be quickly three over.
Nicklaus hit through the fifth green, bunkered on the sixth and buried into a trap on eight. A six-foot putt on nine gave him his only birdie of the day, but he three-putted from 15 feet on 10 - the first putt went 20 feet by - and banged a nine-iron through the green on 11. That made him seven-come--11. Three putts on 16, after the rain delay, pushed his score to eight over.
"A 66 tomorrow puts me at 145, and 145 is not bad at Oakmont," Nicklaus suggested. "Now I have to shoot 66." A 69 might be necessary for him to quality for the last two rounds. Nicklaus is a four-time PGA champion. He won the U.S. Open here in 1962, defeating Arnold Palmer in a playoff (71 to 74) after tying at 283.
Of those bracketed at 70, Sullivan was the most surprised, McGee the least impressed, Kratzert the most nervous.
"I'm replacing Miller Barber here," Sullivan noted. "I wasn't notified until last Saturday afternoon at home (Ocala, Fla.) that I was in."
McGee was miffed because his even-par effort didn't make the leader board until he was finished. "I was beginning to wonder if we were in the tournament," he said. "You'd think missing only two greens and two fairways, with no three-putts, would deserve more than that. But this is just another important tournament to me. The term 'majors' are for Jack and the guys. I've been out here 12 years, supporting my family, and I haven't been spoiled by victories. I've won only twice. So every tournament is big for me.