Johns Creek, Ga. — Steve Stricker stood a mere 10 feet away from the lowest round ever in a major, a captivating moment at any other championship.
Not this one.
Not with U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, the favorite at this PGA, trying to blast a 7-iron through a tree root. He injured his wrist so badly that he thought of quitting, yet somehow managed an even-par 70 despite not being able to hang onto the club with both hands.
And not with Tiger Woods looking like a 14-time major champion for five holes, only to finish 14 shots out of the lead after stumbling through the sand and posting a 77, his second-worst score ever in a major.
On a sweat-stained Thursday at Atlanta Athletic Club, Stricker became the 11th player in PGA Championship history to shoot 63. He opened with three straight birdies and kept right on going until he stood on the cusp of history without even knowing it.
“It never really registered,” Stricker said. “I was just trying to make a birdie and finish 8 under, and I really was concentrating on the putt, but never thought about the history part of it.”
He never thought he could be atop the leaderboard, either. After three days of practice on the 7,467-yard course — the longest par 70 ever at a major — Stricker didn’t have a good feeling about his chances. His money would have been on his Wisconsin neighbor, Jerry Kelly, and he wasn’t too far off.
Kelly had a career-best 65 and was two shots behind. Completing the American foursome atop the leaderboard was former PGA champion Shaun Micheel at 66, and Scott Verplank with a 67, perhaps the biggest surprise of the day because Verplank has been battling a wrist injury.
Former Kansas University golfer Gary Woodland shot 70.