Commentary

Kiawah rendered nearly defenseless

Updated: August 10, 2012, 2:08 AM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- There's nothing quite like a warm breeze blowing off the ocean on an already sweltering day. It feels like standing outside next to the air conditioning handler, the warm air making life even more miserable.

That is what greeted players and spectators Thursday at the Ocean Course, where only the large mosquito-like creatures could have enjoyed the heat and humidity that engulfed the surroundings on the first day of the PGA Championship.

And yet, that breeze did serve a purpose. As it got a little stronger, it took a little bit of the edge off. It was still uncomfortable, but not quite as dismal.

"I'm so happy it started blowing because it was so hot this morning," said defending PGA champion Keegan Bradley. "On the 14th tee [his fifth hole of the day] was one of the hottest moments of my life."

[+] EnlargeWind
Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesHow little wind brushed the coast of Kiawah Island on Thursday? Sixty-five golfers shot par or better in the opening round of the PGA Championship.

Bradley shot 4-under-par 68 to trail leader Carl Pettersson by 2 shots. He played alongside Martin Kaymer and Tiger Woods, who was soaked before he got to the 10th tee, his first. A warm-up session prior to 8 in the morning left him perspiring as if he had run to the course.

Woods talked afterward about needing fluids to recover, the day taking its toll. But he also noted that the wind that finally came up at Kiawah would have an impact.

"The wind kicked up and it's actually changed directions, too," Woods said in the early afternoon after shooting 69. "When it first kicked up it was off the land and now it's off the ocean. Much different golf course now."

Pete Dye's diabolical creation at Kiawah is very much dependent on the wind blowing. The locals say it can blow every direction numerous times a day, making the course play differently from minute to minute, hour to hour.

That needs to happen here to test the best players in the world, who are not bothered by a course that plays nearly 7,700 yards. The soft conditions from early-week rain made it easier although longer, but a stiff breeze causes doubt -- and the ball to fly where not intended. And summertime stillness contributed to 44 players shooting under par.

That doesn't sound like a major championship, nor does it sound much like the Ocean Course, dubbed by Golf Digest as the toughest track in America. But when the wind doesn't blow ...

"I'm expecting this to be the best day of the week; I think everyone is," said Rory McIlroy, whose 67 put him 1 stroke off the lead. "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."

The leaderboard is filled with guys who played in the morning, when the conditions were brutally hot but not windy.

Pettersson, Gary Woodland, McIlroy, John Daly, Geoff Ogilvy, Bradley, Joost Luiten as well as Pat Perez, Ben Curtis, Ryo Ishikawa, Woods, Cameron Tringale and Peter Hanson all played in the morning.

The best of those who played in the afternoon was Spain's Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. He shot 67 with birdies at the 16th and 17th holes. Alexander Noren also shot 67. Aaron Baddeley, Adam Scott, Graeme McDowell and Scott Piercy played in the afternoon and are among a handful of players who shot 68.

"The wind progressively picked up as the day went on," Baddeley said. "This golf course, there's a lot of crosswinds, there's not many downwind holes. It's mainly across so it definitely demands your attention."

Nobody expects it to be as calm as it was Thursday morning, although it isn't supposed to get any more comfortable, either. The higher temperatures and humidity will remain. The wind is expected to freshen on Friday, along with a 50 percent chance of rain.

"Under the right conditions, if it got really firm and fast and you had the wind, it would be very difficult," said Pettersson, who made six birdies and no bogeys. "I think we've seen it about as easy as it can get today this morning. It still is a very good and very tough golf course, but I think we had it under some of the easiest conditions you could probably get."

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com