Steve Stricker has been making a strong bid for the PGA Tour's Player of the Year award in 2011. And after the first round of the 93rd PGA Championship, he only strengthened his case.
Stricker fired a record-tying seven-under-par 63 on the Highlands Course at the Atlanta Athletic Club to take the 18-hole lead over Jerry Kelly (five under par), 2003 PGA Champion Shaun Micheel (four under par) and 47-year-old Scott Verplank (three under par).
Stricker was the 23rd individual on 25 occasions to shoot 63 in a major golf championship, and the 11th player in PGA Championship history to shoot 63.
"I got off to a good start birdieing those first three holes and really kind of set the momentum for me for the day and kept that throughout the round," Stricker said during his post-round presser Thursday.
Stricker has already won twice this year—at The Memorial Tournament and the John Deere Classic. And if you look at the stats, he's No. 1 in an impressive three PGA Tour categories—Birdie Average, Par Breakers and Strokes Gained Putting. Plus, he's second in Scoring Average and FedExCup points.
If he walks away with the Wanamaker Trophy this week, he's a lock for Player of the Year as well.
A long list of golfers is at two under par, including two players on opposite ends of their careers—47-year-old U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III and 19-year-old Matteo Manassero. Other players who are five shots behind Stricker include Brendon de Jonge, John Senden, Bill Haas, Brandt Jobe, Anders Hansen and Simon Dyson.
Club pro Bob Sowards is in a group of 10 golfers at one under par—including last week's WGC-Bridgestone winner Adam Scott as well as notables Gary Woodland, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Stewart Cink and Ricky Barnes.
I think there is a very dangerous group of golfers at even par, namely the world's No. 1 player Luke Donald, FedExCup points leader Nick Watney and reigning U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy.
McIlroy had one of the more interesting stories of the day, injuring his right wrist on the third hole but toughing out the level par round despite being in obvious pain.
His status for the remainder of the golf tournament remains in question until he can see how his injured arm—which has been confirmed as a strained tendon—feels during Friday's second round warmup.
Phil Mickelson was one more shot back of the leader with 22 other players at one over par.
While seven or eight shots back may seem like a lot, it's still very early in the golf tournament and absolutely anything can happen with this much talent lurking.
So where is Tiger Woods' name on the leaderboard? It's on the anti-leaderboard.
Woods began his day by birdieing three of his first five holes, but somewhat surprisingly struggled from there with three double bogeys to finish his round in a tie for 129th place with a disappointing seven-over-par 77.
Another surprising collapse was by Ryo Ishikawa, who after finishing fourth at the WGC-Bridgestone last week, staggered to a shocking last place 15-over-par 85 total.
Ishikawa has no chance to make the cut and Woods will need a miracle second round to keep playing this weekend.