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Stricker stood a mere 10 feet away from the lowest round ever in a major, a birdie putt that would've given him a 62. He hit it firm but a little right, the ball sliding by the cup as the gallery groaned.
Only after he missed did his caddie, Jimmy Johnson, tell him that it was for the record in a major.
"It never really registered," Stricker said. "I was just trying to make a birdie and finish 8 under, and I really was concentrating on the putt, but never thought about the history part of it."
His Wisconsin neighbor, Jerry Kelly, had a career-best 65 and was two shots behind. Completing the American foursome atop the leaderboard was former PGA champion Shaun Micheel at 66, and Scott Verplank with a 67, perhaps the biggest surprise of the day because Verplank has been battling a wrist injury. Now, he'll have some company in physical therapy with McIlroy hurting, too.
The U.S. is off to a good start in its quest to end an 0-for-6 drought in the majors, its longest of the modern era. Phil Mickelson was the last American to win one, the 2010 Masters.
Mickelson shot 71 and spent a good deal of time afterward griping about the 7,467-yard course -- the longest par 70 ever at a major.
"This is a great example again of how modern architecture is killing the participation of the sport," Lefty said.
But most felt this was a fair test, a mix of extremely difficult holes but some shorter ones that set up well for birdies. The PGA of America moved up several tees, and temperatures in the 90s enabled the ball to travel farther.
That didn't stop Ishikawa and eight other players from shooting in the 80s, including former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover.
Luke Donald, No. 1 in the world, opened with a 70, while second-ranked Lee Westwood began his quest for his first major at 71. McIlroy played in the traditional grouping of the year's major champions, with Masters champion Charl Schwartzel opening with a 71 despite a double bogey on the last hole, and British Open champion Darren Clarke struggling to a 78.
Stricker, the highest-ranked American at No. 5 in the world, had only 24 putts on greens that are remarkably smooth. At least most of them were, anyway.
If the opening round wasn't bizarre enough, the mowers malfunctioned Wednesday night and tore up chunks of turf on the edges of the 14th and 17th greens. They were patched well enough to play, yet they are considered ground under repair for the rest of the week.
Stricker already has won twice this year and feels as though he has nothing left to prove, especially after he came back from a slump and made history by being voted PGA Tour comeback player of the year -- in consecutive seasons.
A major championship would be the topper.
"I guess I accomplished what I set out to accomplish six years ago, to get back in the winner's circle, to play well again," Stricker said. "All this other stuff is really just icing on the cake, and that's the way I treat it."
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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