PGA Championship notebook: Molinari forced to withdraw with injury

Patrick Rada takes the first tee shot of the PGA Championship on the Ocean Course Thursday in Kiawah Island, S.C. David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Francesco Molinari was forced to withdraw from the PGA Championship on Thursday morning.

The 2018 British Open champion cited a back injury in pulling out of the championship. Molinari has fallen to 144th in the world. If no one else withdraws, the PGA Championship will have 99 of the top 100, matching the record for most players from the top 100.

He was replaced in the field by first alternate Brandon Hagy, who has been practicing on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island this week.

BROOKS KOEPKA got off to a strong start in his chase for a third PGA Championship title. Koepka shook off a double bogey on his opening hole to finish at 3-under 69, tied with Keegan Bradley and Viktor Hovland halfway through the opening round at Kiawah Island.

Koepka won the PGA Championship in 2018 and 2019. He was in contention in the final round a year ago, but he faded from fourth to 29th after a closing 74. Among those a stroke behind the leaders was defending champion Collin Morikawa, who missed a par putt on his final hole, the ninth, to fall out of the lead group.

JOHN CATLIN took 74 shots and signed for a 75, courtesy of a one-shot penalty for slow play. Catlin, the American who has won three times on the European Tour since September, received two bad times under the PGA Championship’s policy on pace of play.

His first one came on the 16th hole, his seventh of the round, when he took 1 minutes, 14 seconds to play his second shot from the fairway. That resulted in a warning. Five holes later, Catlin took 1 minutes, 3 seconds to play his second shot from the first cut on No. 3. The second bad time comes with a one-shot penalty. His par became a bogey on that hole.

Under the policy, players are allowed 50 seconds to play a shot when they are first to hit – from the tee, approach, around the green and putting – and the others in the group get 40 seconds.

MARTIN LAIRD is looking to surprise at the PGA Championship the way he has this season on the PGA Tour. Laird’s run of four consecutive birdies has him on top at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island as the morning wave of competitors finished their opening rounds Thursday.

Laird went seven years without a win before taking the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open last October. He sits at 3-under 72, tied with Keegan Bradley for the lead.

SOUTH CAROLINA native Patrick Rada found the middle of the fairway with the opening tee shot in the PGA Championship.

It was a gorgeous morning on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island with a little trepidation in the air. The flags along the practice range already were flapping even as the sun was beginning its climb over the Atlantic. The wind is everything at Kiawah Island and it has been strong enough to get everyone’s attention this week. Even the power players have been using long irons, hybrids and even fairway metals into par 4s and par 3s.

Rada is the head PGA professional at MacArthur Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Florida. He likely was chosen to hit the first tee shot given his South Carolina roots.

BRYSON DECHAMBEAU was heading in the wrong direction early in his round. The reigning U.S. Open champion made bogey on four straight holes in the opening round at the Ocean Course.

DeChambeau, whose scientific approach to the game has helped fueled his success, spoke of the “laminar flow of the wind” at the seaside layout. And he struggled to manage it during the middle of his opening nine of the year’s second major.

His approach on No. 13 was 40 feet from the hole, leading to a three-putt bogey. He put his tee shot on the next hole, a par 3, into the bunker and could not save par. He drove way left on the 15th and missed a 9-footer for par. On the 16th, DeChambeau’s approach went into a bunker and he could not get up and down to fall to 2-over par.

CAMRON TRINGALE is seeking his first win on the PGA Tour and is off to a strong start. Tringale had three birdies on his opening nine holes. He birdied the sixth and seventh holes to move to 3-under par. Tringale is playing his seventh PGA Championship. He has never finished better than 72nd.

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