ROBERT Karlsson and Jeev Milka Singh were the clubhouse leaders with two-under-par opening rounds of 68 when play was suspended because of bad weather yesterday at the 90th PGA Championship.
Half the field of 156 were still out on the South Course at Oakland Hills Country Club when the hooters sounded at 10.33pm BST to suspend play, with clouds gathering and thunderstorms and lightning forecast.
Sweden's Karlsson, a top-ten finisher in each of the first three majors of 2008, bounced back from an opening double-bogey at the par-4 first hole to birdie five of the next seven holes and added another at the 11th – before bogeys at the par-4 14th and 15th holes sent him back to two under for his round.
"It was great," he said. "I played really, really well. Early in the morning, the greens were very soft – and from when we played the practice rounds and today they were firm, and I went for the pin at the first; silly boy. But then I played really well on the front nine and got the putter going. The greens were absolutely perfect, so once I rolled a couple in – just keep going."
Singh, from India, also began with bogey at the first and then eagled the par-5 second in a round which also featured three birdies and two more bogeys.
Among the early finishers, Karlsson and Singh held a one-shot lead over American Ken Duke and Sergio Garcia, the Spaniard bogeying the last for a 69. "I scrambled nicely," said Garcia. "I putted good. I chipped good. I hit a lot of good shots into the greens and one-under on this course, I'm thrilled with it."
Pre-tournament favourite Phil Mickelson opened his challenge with a 70.
Among those yet to complete their opening rounds were South Africa's Retief Goosen and American Jonathan Byrd, who shared the lead at three under before bogeying the eighth and 17th respectively.
Karlsson and Garcia are part of a strong and much-hyped European contingent at Oakland Hills, bidding to break a winless streak dating back to Tommy Armour of Scotland in 1930.
Hopes that the 78-year drought can end this weekend have been boosted by the fact that the par-70, 7,395-yard course near Detroit played host to Europe's landslide victory over the United States in the 2004 Ryder Cup.
Eight of the team that won in formidable style four years ago are back, but it was a mixed bag for the European heroes. Open champion Padraig Harrington got off to a flying start with a hat-trick of birdies, only for four bogeys between the seventh and 13th holes to derail the Irishman. He bounced back with a birdie at the 14th to return to even par when play was suspended.
Paul Casey double-bogeyed the par-4 11th, his second of the day – on the way to a two-over 72 which closed with the Englishman three-putting his last hole, the ninth, for a bogey.
"I didn't put it in the fairway as often as I needed to," he said. "I made it very, very difficult. I think there were two holes that I was frustrated on.
"I actually hit a very good tee shot, and it kicked off into the rough; then I pulled a four-iron in the bunker for the third shot – and it was disappointing not to birdie the par-fives, because they're both reachable today."
Paisley's Alastair Forsyth started with a three-over-par 73, while Colin Montgomerie shot a 76, and Lee Westwood, who tied for second at last weekend's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, criticised the course set-up after enduring a nightmare opening day with a 77.
Asked what needed to be done to create a fairer test, Westwood replied: "Cut all the rough out. I asked my partners if I was out of order and they said: 'No, if you are slightly off line you are crucified'. In my opinion the rough is too thick around the greens as well. It takes the skill away from chipping. You don't need it.
"This course is 7,395 yards long, the greens are firm and the pins are tucked away. They are sucking the fun out of the major championships when you set it up like that."
Anthony Kim, a two-time PGA Tour winner in his second season, returned from a disappointing Bridgestone Invitational to card a level-par 70. At fifth on the US points list, Kim is set to qualify automatically for the US Ryder Cup team – because the final major of the year counts as the last event for Americans to book the eight automatic spots on Paul Azinger's team for Valhalla next month.
Faring less well among the early-starting American hopefuls, Hunter Mahan – tenth on the US points list – slumped to an 11-over-par 81, a week after he called Ryder Cup players "slaves".