Justin Thomas reacts after missing a putt on the seventh...

Justin Thomas reacts after missing a putt on the seventh hole during the first round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at the Valhalla Golf Club, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Louisville, Ky. Credit: AP/Matt York

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Justin Thomas wished his score reflected how he felt he played.

The Louisville native certainly didn’t complain after he birdied four of his final six holes for a 2-under 69 on Thursday in the PGA Championship. He was just hoping for a better start in his hometown as a supportive gallery watched at Valhalla Golf Club.

Making it feel worse was playing partner Xander Schauffele setting a PGA Championship record with a 62.

“It was a lot of fun," said Thomas, who is among 15 golfers tied at 2 under as he tries for his third PGA Championship title. "Felt a lot of great things out there, a lot of positive encouragement.

“I easily could have shot four or five shots better today, but I’m proud of how I played the back nine to hang in there.”

Thomas acknowledged having some nerves starting on the par-5 10th hole at Valhalla, located about 18 miles from where he played high school golf at Saint Xavier. The morning sun caused him to lose sight of his “strange” tee shot, but he found the ball and saved par.

He bogeyed the long par-3 14th, and then posted a birdie two holes later. The front side featured more drama as he bogeyed the par-4 second and sixth holes, the latter of which eventually became an outlier amid a string of birdies from No. 4 to No. 8.

Justin Thomas chips to the green on the second hole...

Justin Thomas chips to the green on the second hole during the first round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at the Valhalla Golf Club, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Louisville, Ky. Credit: AP/Sue Ogrocki

Thomas' final birdie was especially impressive as he holed out from nearly 18 feet on a par 3 that didn't yield many birdies.

“I hit kind of a mixed bag,” Thomas said. “I felt like I hit a fair amount of good putts that didn’t go in that just needed a little bit more pace, and then I felt like I just hit some poor putts that started off-line right away.”

Thomas got his share of cheers, but Schauffele commanded the most attention with an impressive performance highlighted by five birdies on the back nine. Thomas himself marveled somewhat at his partner's round, which provided some perspective on his own play — and motivation to hold up his end.

That's no small matter for Thomas, who has missed the cut in four of his last seven majors since winning his second PGA Championship two years ago. The disappointing stretch includes last month's Masters, where he missed the cut with a meltdown on the back nine for a second-round 79.

Justin Thomas chips to the green on the second hole...

Justin Thomas chips to the green on the second hole during the first round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at the Valhalla Golf Club, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Louisville, Ky. Credit: AP/Sue Ogrocki

Thomas avoided looking at the PGA leaderboard until he was done Thursday, and he liked where he stood.

Now he is hoping to build on what has been an emotional homecoming of accolades. Thomas choked up last week as Louisville proclaimed a day for the 31-year-old and named him a Hometown Hero, which comes with a huge banner on a downtown building. He also received another honorary title as a Kentucky Colonel.

Thomas has a steep climb to be considered a contender at Valhalla, but he's off to a good start toward sticking around through the weekend.

“I shouldn’t say it’s easier,” he added afterward, "but if I’m in a rhythm with my golf swing or I feel like I’m playing well, it’s one of those things over four days (where) I feel like I can potentially get a hot putter at least one day.

“And even if I just putt well or OK, I feel like I can find my way into contention versus sometimes if you’re not hitting it well or you’re scrapping it around. Sometimes you just can’t find it, and it’s tough, too.”

More golf news

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME