Cam Davis loves the big moments – and he’s put himself in position for another early at the US PGA Championship.
The lanky Sydneysider, in just his second major championship, showed poise well beyond his 26 years to card a three-under-par 69 at Kiawah Island’s tough Ocean Course and share second place on a tumultuous opening day.
Davis trails only Canadian Corey Conners, who caught fire late in his round and surged to a two-stroke advantage with his own breakout round, a five-under-par 67.
But it was Davis, already enjoying his best season on the US PGA Tour, who caught the eye late.
The 2017 Australian Open champion was well placed with two early birdies, but on a course renowned for penalising bad shots, was given a rude shock when his hooked drive up the sixth was unplayable.
The resultant penalty drop was taken in wasteland from where it took two more shots to reach the par-four green.
Three putts later and with the resultant triple-bogey on his card, Davis could have been excused for unravelling on his PGA Championship debut.
But he’s made of stern stuff and immediately began the rebuild with a birdie up the seventh.
An eagle on the seventh powered him back into the fray and another birdie on the par-three 14th put him back alongside major champions Brooks Koepka and Keegan Bradley in the group that shares second.
He narrowly missed three subsequent birdie chances that would have him second alone, but Davis can be well pleased with both his form and his mindset.
“It helps when you’re hitting the ball in pretty good spots and not really having to stress too much,” Davis said.
“There was one hole where I was a little bit frazzled, I guess.
“But for the most part I was just doing my own thing and playing the golf course the way that I see fits my game.
“That’s all I can do … and chill out between shots.”
Of the other Australians, in-form Cam Smith looked set to take his place among the leaders when he almost casually loomed at two under through 13 holes.
But two makeable birdie putts and another for par from the 14th to 16th all burned the edge as the Queenslander lost momentum.
A spectacular bunker blast singed the edge on the tough 17th, then a blocked drive into the wasteland right of 18th couldn’t be overcome and led to a closing bogey as he finished at even-par 72.
“I thought the ball-striking was really up there today,” said Smith, who was clearly satisfied with his overall game.
“The last five holes I played two over and basically didn’t really miss a shot. I hit a bad drive on 18 but it didn’t really feel bad, that’s just the way it is around here.
“I thought I putted well – a couple more putts go in and I’m right up there.
“Yeah, no work for me tonight. I’m just going to get a good rest and be here early in the morning.”
New South Welshman Matt Jones, in fine form all season long on the US PGA Tour and with an eye on possible Olympic selection, hit the lead momentarily during the morning phase of play.
Jones, already a career-best 24th on the Tour’s FedEx Cup money list, went top when he drilled his fourth birdie on the 13th.
But, like so many others on the brutal closing stretch of holes and playing at arguably the wind’s zenith for the day, the dual Australian Open champ came undone in a hurry.
A bogey on the 15th was followed by another on the 16th, a double on the 17th and a bogey on the final hole as he fell back to a one-over 73.
Jason Scrivener was also very impressive for a long time.
The West Australian, in just his second major championship, fought back from two early bogeys to reach one under through the 11th.
He also bogeyed three of the closing five holes, but soothed the damage with a birdie on the long 16th to also card 73.
Marc Leishman and Jason Day each fired opening 74s, but they came in different fashions.
Victorian Leishman was square through 12 holes and mixed three bogeys with a late birdie from that point.
Queenslander Day, champion of this event six years ago, looked in early trouble with his third bogey by the sixth hole.
But he made a spectacular eagle on the seventh and fought hard to play the final eight holes square to pick up several shots on the majority of the field.
Lucas Herbert fought long and hard, but eventually stumbled and carded a 76.
The Victorian began the day with a drive blocked into the water right of the 10th fairway and a subsequent double-bogey.
In his sixth major championship appearance, Herbert hung tough for a long time and was still two over when he stood on the third tee.
A hat-trick of bogeys at that point was damaging, but he hit back with a late birdie on the seventh to give himself a chance tomorrow.
Queenslander Adam Scott also began the day on the wrong foot and, despite a couple of birdies, never really recovered.
Scott leaked his opening drive into the same pond that Herbert found, but went one worse with a triple-bogey en route to a flat 78.
Of the other big names, world No.1 Dustin Johnson endured two double-bogeys in a 76, while tournament favourite Rory McIlroy shot a rollercoaster 75.