PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Matt Kuchar knows how it feels to make clutch birdies at Oak Hill.
And to be outdone by another player.
Fifteen years ago, he lost a classic match-play duel to then-teen sensation Sergio Garcia in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur on the course that’s hosting this week’s PGA Championship.
Garcia won 2 and 1 that day in 1998, when Kuchar was the defending champion. There were seven hole-winning birdies in the match.
“Certainly I talked about it in practice rounds, the match we had,” Kuchar said. “I have a lot of fans out here that remember the ‘98 Amateur, so got a lot of people cheering me on and rooting for me.”
Starting his first round on the 10th tee, he was even through eight holes Thursday before making a long birdie putt. That started a run of three birdies in six holes as he seeks his first major title. Kuchar shot a bogey-free 67 to finish at 3 under, one of six players tied for fifth, two strokes behind leaders Adam Scott and Jim Furyk.
“I made eight pars in a row and looked like it was going to be nine pars in a row, and that putt snuck in and it was nice to finally get one,” the 35-year-old Kuchar said. “Was able to hit a close approach shot on 2 and was able to seemingly get things going kind of quickly.”
Garcia, meanwhile, shot a 69.
CASEY’S BACK: Paul Casey used to be a regular at major championships, sometimes even high on the leaderboard.
Now, the English player just appreciates the chance to play.
Casey reached as high as No. 3 in the world just four years ago until a series of injuries. He went through most of 2011 with a right foot problem, which made it painful to shift his weight during the swing. Just as he was regaining his strength, he broke his collarbone in a snowboard accident. Casey tried to return too early, but his game got worse and his world ranking plunged.
This was the second straight year he qualified for only two majors, and if not for his win at the Irish Open, he likely would have missed the PGA Championship.
“Without sounding sort of cocky, I feel like ... I enjoy it out here. I belong out here; I love it out here,” Casey said after opening with a 67. “Having missed so many, I’m very appreciative being back on the big stage. It’s a classic tale of you don’t realize how much you’re missing something until it’s gone.”
Casey didn’t show up at Oak Hill in perfect health. He was so sick last week at Firestone that he got in only one practice round at Oak Hill on Wednesday.
“Maybe it was the best thing I could have done was to save energy for today, and I did feel fresh,” he said.
FRASER’S FLIP: Australia’s Marcus Fraser was a combined 23 over for the U.S. Open and British Open this year. He appeared headed for more of the same when he opened the first round of the PGA Championship with two bogeys.
Then Fraser didn’t make another bogey the rest of the way. Five birdies over an 11-hole stretch gave him a 67.
“A bogey, bogey start was pretty standard for the way things are going the last few months,” he said. “Went out there and just gave it everything I got at the time. Been struggling a bit, and everything sort of came together.”