ST. LOUIS — Sean McCarty was the first player on Bellerive Country Club’s practice green Thursday, working on his putting before the crack of dawn.
“I left my hotel at 5 after 5,” said McCarty, who had a 7:06 a.m. tee time in the first round of the PGA Championship.
“I was putting in the dark. I’ve never done that before. I’ve finished in the dark, but I’d never warmed up in the dark.”
The head pro at Coralville’s Brown Deer Golf Club was in the dark figuratively at that hour, too. He didn’t know if he would be physically able to play well. He didn’t blame his 4-over-par 74 on what he believes is a torn shoulder tendon, but it certainly didn’t help.
“One hundred percent,” McCarty replied when asked if the injury affected him. “I broke 80. With my shoulder the way it was, I wasn’t too sure what was going to happen today. I played all right.”
McCarty said the health care professional he saw in St. Louis about the injury “thinks it might be a biceps tendon, but that’s not 100 percent sure yet. I’ll get an MRI when I get back.
“It’s unfortunate, but that’s how it goes.”
McCarty said he could tell something wasn’t right in the shoulder when he played in last week’s Iowa Open in Riverside, “but I could barely feel it. I got down here and I went to hit a drive (Monday) and felt something go.”
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He didn’t look comfortable with his first three tee shots of the day, none of which landed on the fairway on holes 10 through 12. The first two led to bogeys. But he hit a sweet shot out of the rough on No. 12 that helped him save par, and began looking like he belonged here.
McCarty dropped in 7-foot birdie putts on Nos. 13 and 14 before giving a shot back at 15. He got to 18 still 1-over, and went on a scrambling rampage. His tee shot at 18 wasn’t just left of the fairway, it was so far left that it was in the fairway rough of the 17th hole.
He got a free drop because of a man-made impediment in front of the ball. “Drop in unknown” is what the PGA Championship’s website said in its play-by-play description.
McCarty somehow navigated his second shot through trees and whatnot 207 yards onto the 18th green, leaving it 11 feet from the cup.
It was brilliant. He two-putted for par, then scrambled for pars on Nos. 1 and 2 after hitting his tee shots into the rough.
But then came a double-bogey on the par-3 No. 3 when McCarty pushed his tee shot in a back bunker and needed two shots to escape the sand. He had two bogeys and a birdie the rest of the way.
“I could have made even-par today,” said McCarty. “I made a couple of bad decisions. Especially on that par-3 when I pulled it way left.”
He hit just seven of 14 fairways in regulation, a percentage that won’t work in this or most other tourneys.
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“I was a little tentative at the start,” 45-year-old McCarty said, “and then I made those birdies. That kind of helped get things back real quick.
“I wasn’t really nervous. I expected to be, especially since I kind of changed my swing a little bit. It was very difficult to do my normal swing. I had to compensate for it. Unfortunately, for many years I’ve had to compensate for body parts not working.”
If it hasn’t been his back — he sometimes wears a back brace while playing — it’s been an elbow or a hip or a wrist. Or a shoulder.
But, maybe it’s true what Zach Johnson said about McCarty Wednesday.
“He’s a machine,” said Johnson, who played a practice round with McCarty here Tuesday and competed against him in Greater Cedar Rapids Opens back in the early 2000s.
Nonetheless, McCarty needs to a 60-something Friday to have a chance to make the 36-hole cut. Concern about the shoulder notwithstanding, he said he had a lot of fun playing with eight-time PGA Tour-winner Brandt Snedeker (“a hero of mine”) Thursday. He said his wife and kids are having a blast seeing him play with the world’s best.
“It’s a good family vacation for us,” McCarty said. “I wish I was a couple shots better. But there’s still tomorrow.”
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