US PGA 2021: Corey Conners sets early pace at Kiawah

Corey Conners

AS IT STANDS -5 Conners; -3 Bradley, Hovland, Koepka, Wise, Horsfield, Davis; -2 Tringale, Laird, Morikawa, Mickelson, Grace, Woodland, Streelman, Im. SELECTED OTHERS E DeChambeau, Rahm; +1 Spieth; +3 McIlroy, MacIntyre, Thomas; +4 D. Johnson.

Corey Conners tamed the monstrous Ocean Course at Kiawah Island to set the early pace after day one of the 2021 US PGA Championship.

The 29-year-old carded a five-under 67 to open up a two-shot lead after the first round as he seeks to become just the second Canadian to win one of the four men's majors. 

His closest challengers at this early stage include two-time champion Brooks Koepka and the 2011 winner Keegan Bradley, as well as Aaron Wise, Viktor Hovland and English ace Sam Horsfield. 

• Laird in contention despite sloppy finish

• Bob Mac down but not out after Round 1

They are all in a group on three-under, one ahead of a large chasing pack that includes Phil Mickelson, defending champion Collin Morikawa and Scotland's Martin Laird.

Conners, the world No.39, is making just his tenth start in the game's marquee events this week but his terrific start would have come as no surprise to anybody who has been following his progress over the past few months. 

He has finished inside the top-10 in four of his last eight starts, including a tie for eighth at last month's Masters Tournament - his best finish in a major to date. 

How he'd love to go one better this week.

"I am really pleased with the score," said Conners. "I definitely knew in my preparation that it was possible to have a decent round out here and shoot a five- or six-under-par round.

• US PGA 2021: Round 2 tee times

"I kind of started the day thinking, 'Why not me? There's birdies to be had. Just play with patience.' You know, take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.

"I've been playing well for quite a while. I'm excited for opportunity to play against the best players in the world and put my game to the test. I have a lot of confidence in my game and I'm excited for the rest of the weekend."

Conners' fast start was in stark contrast to Rory McIlroy's disappointing opening salvo. 

After winning the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow just under a fortnight ago, the Northern Irishman came into this week heavily fancied to end a near seven-year winless streak in the majors. 

• Former major champ withdraws from US PGA

However, he could do no better than a three-over 75 to lie well off the pace after 18 holes - one better than world No.1 Dustin Johnson.

Spare a thought, too, for John Catlin. The three-time European Tour winner won't forget his first-ever round in a major championship after becoming the first player since 2014 to be penalised for slow play in one of the game's four biggest events.

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