BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. The PGA Championship looked a lot like the U.S. Open, with only six players able to break par Thursday among the early starters who got the best of the weather at Oakland Hills.
It sounded like a U.S. Open, too.
"A great test of golf and patience," Jeev Milkha Singh said after a 2-under 68, joining Robert Karlsson of Sweden atop the leaderboard before afternoon thunderstorms delayed the first round for about 90 minutes.
It was easy to lose patience even after the round ended on a course that was punishing from the opening tee shot to the final putt. The rough is the thickest for a U.S. major this year; the Donald Ross greens at Oakland Hills are as frightening as Augusta National, and the scoring chipped away at the PGA Championship's recent reputation as being the major to make birdies.
"The course is 7,500 yards long; the greens are firm, and the pins are tucked away," Lee Westwood said after finishing with six straight pars to salvage a 77. "They are sucking the fun out of the major championships when you set it up like that.
"I sound as if I'm moaning which I am but it's a great shame," he said. "It's a fantastic golf course. They are great greens and they are playable. But there is no need to play it as it is."
Such comments typically are reserved for a U.S. Open, and the similarities didn't stop there. The rough is so thick that players rarely reached the green after missing the fairway, and caution was required for every putt on greens that became so crispy in pleasant sunshine that tournament officials hosed down three of them throughout the day.
Even so, the best golf was rewarded.
Sergio Garcia struck the ball solid as ever, holed one long putt, limited his mistakes and joined a group at 69 that included Billy Mayfair, Ryder Cup hopeful Sean O'Hair and Ken Duke.
Phil Mickelson was in three bunkers before he reached his second green (No. 11), was 2 over for his round and somehow managed a 70. He made only eight pars, but among his five birdies was a 35-foot putt down the scary slope on the 16th, followed by a 4-iron that rolled within 18 inches for a birdie on the 238-yard 17th.
"I'm just happy to have shot even par today," he said.
Anthony Kim overcame five bogeys with an eagle on the par-5 second hole that carried him to a 70, joining Mickelson, Rod Pampling and former U.S. Amateur champion Ryan Moore.
Karlsson, the only player to finish in the top 10 at all three majors this year, opened the fourth one with a shot that bounded off a cart path over the first green and led to a double bogey. He answered with three straight birdies and reached 4 under for his round until missing the green for bogeys on 14 and 15 and settling for a 68.
How does someone start with a double bogey and not lose his cool, much less his mind?
"Try to remember that I actually can play golf, even though it didn't look like that on the first hole," Karlsson said. "My caddie said, 'Remember, we played with Tiger in the U.S. Open.' And I think he took 6 down the first hole pretty much every day. So you can shoot a good round from here as well."
But such rounds were hard to find.
"It's a U.S. Open at the moment," said Geoff Ogilvy, who won the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in 2006 without breaking par in any round and failing to do that Thursday with a 73. "This is one of the clubs that prides itself on how hard it is. I don't think anyone expected it to be easy. It wouldn't be a monster if it was."
Ben Hogan gave Oakland Hills its nickname when he won the 1951 U.S. Open and said he was glad he brought "this monster" to its knees. The Monster played like it was on steroids, especially after Rees Jones lengthened it to just under 7,400 yards.
His redesign did not meet everyone's approval.
"If you had Rees Jones redo 'Scrabble,' he'd leave out the vowels," Paul Goydos said after a 74.
Players knew what they were getting into after three days of practice. The surprise came when they got on the golf course Thursday and found it firmer than ever, with balls rolling on the fairway and crusty footprints visible on the greens. Mickelson hit what he thought was a perfect tee shot on No. 10 with a hybrid, only to learn that it rolled all the way into a bunker.
Karlsson, however, managed to make six birdies. And the other Singh Jeev is from India and plays the European tour made only three bogeys on a course that was significantly harder than he had seen during practice.
His best birdie might have been a 3-iron to 20 feet on the 17th.
"To stop the ball on that green when there's a lot of breeze from behind, that was good," he said.
Singh fits the mold of someone who would thrive in the majors this year. He came to Oakland Hills with an ankle injury he has been coping with the last two months, so severe that doctors have recommended a month of rest.
Trevor Immelman won the Masters four months after having a benign tumor cut out of his back. Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open on one good leg. Padraig Harrington wasn't sure he would be able to play much less win the British Open because of a wrist injury.
Singh said he had to be careful walking the hills on this course. The only time it really hurts during his swing is when he hits driver.
"And you do need to hit a lot of drivers on this golf course," he said.
Jim Furyk is among those who like the course firm and fast, and he was satisfied with a 71 that put him in the group with Steve Stricker, who is No. 8 in the Ryder Cup standings.
The nightmare belonged to Hunter Mahan, who is 10th in the U.S. standings, was the runner-up at Oakland Hills in the 2002 U.S. Amateur and posted his highest score as a professional an 81.