KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – The most important figure at the 94th PGA Championship has never won a major, but he’s played a major role in plenty of ‘em.
He strikes fear into the hearts of golfers. His mere presence sends scores soaring.
He is forever temperamental, blowing hot and cold without any notice.
They call him The Breeze.
Prior to the opening round at the appropriately named Ocean Course, he was all the world’s elite players were talking about.
Ernie Els: “If the wind blows, obviously it makes it a little bit more difficult.”
Rory McIlroy: “If the wind … comes, it's obviously going to be more about how you mentally approach that.”
Adam Scott: “If the wind gets up … it's up to Mother Nature to determine where your ball is going to finish.”
If… if… if…
Well, here’s another if: What if The Breeze doesn’t blow?
We found an answer to that question on Thursday, as the course known for tempestuous, howling winds was rendered a shark without teeth or a snake without venom.
This was a venue only Bob Barker could love. It was effectively neutered for most of Round 1.
“There really wasn't much wind on the front nine,” said Carl Pettersson, who took the lead with a 6-under 66, “so I knew I had to keep going low because I figured the wind would get up.”
That was about the only thing he got wrong all day.
“Hitting balls on the range this morning, there was completely no wind,” reported McIlroy, who shot a 5-under 67 that left him just one stroke off the lead. “It was flat calm and I really thought that I had to take advantage of the conditions.”
He wasn’t the only one. In all, 25 of the 78 players who teed off before noon finished the day under par, making the year’s fourth major look more like the John Deere Classic 2.0.
By the time The Breeze did show up for its late tee time, there was already more red on the leaderboard than in the stands at a University of South Carolina football game.
This is the 7,676-yard behemoth that had players quivering in their soft spikes? This is the course that was rated by Golf Digest magazine as the toughest in all of America?
It just goes to show once again that wind – not course length or dense rough or green speeds – is the greatest determining factor of scoring for the game’s top professional players.
When it did finally start picking up during the late afternoon, the results were predictable. More high-arcing iron shots traveled off line. More of them destined for the green found the rough, more destined for the rough splashed down in pervading water hazards.
“The wind progressively picked up as the day went on,” explained Aaron Baddeley, who posted a 68 for one of the best scores of the afternoon wave. “This golf course, there's a lot of crosswinds; there's not many downwind or into the wind holes. It's mainly across, so it definitely demands your attention.”
The Breeze will demand everybody’s attention over the final three rounds, as well, with pantlegs whipping and flagsticks bending.
It is, to steal an album title from indie rock band Modest Mouse, Good News for People Who Like Bad News.
You’ll never see the Ocean Course play as benignly as it did during the morning of the opening round, which means that conditions should only become more difficult as the week progresses.
“I'm expecting this to be the best day of the week,” McIlroy said. “I think everyone is. So we know that there's going to be a bit of wind coming in and maybe a bit of bad weather. It's just something that you're going to have to deal with and I'm just happy that I got off to a great start.”
Even when he’s barely discernible, everybody is still talking about The Breeze.
Much like some of the game’s best players, he mostly laid low in the opening round. Also like them, expect him to launch a furious comeback and make his presence felt as this tournament continues.