ST. LOUIS – Thursday was supposed to be a time for Ryder Cup hopefuls Xander Schauffele and Tony Finau to build upon their cases to make U.S. captain Jim Furyk’s team.
However, it was the 48-year-old Furyk putting together the round of the grouping on a sweltering Midwest summer day at Bellerive. Furyk shot 1-under 69, a shot better than Schauffele and five fewer than Finau, in the opening round of the 100th PGA Championship.
“I still have the fire to want to play and compete and I’m practicing at home,” said Furyk, who is making his 13th start of the season this week. He tied for 45th two weeks ago in Canada and will play the Wyndham Championship next week.
“Priorities have changed, my family’s always first, but the Ryder Cup is definitely my top priority under that and then golf is down the list, probably No. 3 right now.”
Furyk missed just three fairways and when he did hit an errant shot off the tee, he avoided trouble. At the par-4 fifth hole, he got a nice kick off a tree and was able to save par after laying up and making a 20-foot putt. He birdied four holes, including three of his first five, climbing to the top of the leaderboard early at 2 under.
“He happens to be a captain this year,” Schauffele said, “but just like any other golfer out here he’s trying to win this tournament.”
Furyk’s most impressive birdie came at the par-4 fourth. At 503 yards, the fourth demanded a driver off the tee and then a 3-wood into the green from Furyk. From 235 yards out, Furyk’s approach ended up 35 feet away. He made the putt as his playing competitors dropped shots, Schauffele making bogey and Finau making double after needing five shots to get his ball on the green.
Finau made four birdies, all on the front – or second – nine. But he missed half of his 14 fairways and made two double bogeys. For a player who has finished in the top 10 in each of the year’s first three majors, it was a disappointing day for the 28-year-old, who sits 13th in Ryder Cup points.
Schauffele, 24, also has had a strong year in the majors, tying for sixth at the U.S. Open and nearly winning the British Open before sharing second. He is 11th in the Ryder Cup standings and was playing with Furyk for the first time in a competitive round. (Schauffele did play a few practice holes with Furyk during the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in 2016 and spoke with his potential captain at length during a gala for the CVS Health Charity Classic in June.)
The Ryder Cup talk was nonexistent Thursday for the prospective rookies, who understandably were trying to keep focus on the current tournament. One would think playing with Furyk would make that task tougher, but Schauffele didn’t feel like he and Finau were playing under a microscope.
“He’s a really easygoing guy,” Schauffele said of Furyk. “He’s not putting any pressure on us.”
Major heat put plenty of pressure on Schauffele early. It was a rough start for the San Diego State product as he bogeyed three of his first six holes. However, he made birdie putts of 10 feet, 5 feet, 24 feet and 3 feet on the front side to battle back to even par.
Furyk liked what he saw, especially out of Schauffele.
“He seemed pretty unflappable, seemed like a guy that doesn’t let much bother him, let’s it roll off his back and goes to the next hole,” Furyk said. “I was impressed with the way he conducts himself and the way he handles himself.”
On Thursday, though, it was Furyk who was arguably most impressive.