SPRINGFIELD, Va. (AP) — For some professional golfers this year, there are five majors.
Emiliano Grillo certainly wants to win his first this week at the PGA Championship. Failing that, taking the first Olympic gold medal in the sport in 112 years would do just fine — especially for an Argentine playing in Brazil.
That Grillo is playing some of the best golf of his career right now might make him more of a factor in Rio. His 4-under-par 66 Thursday at Baltusrol had him one stroke behind Jimmy Walker’s early lead.
Grillo has built a nice little string of finishes the last two months, starting with an 11th at the Memorial. He was 14th at Firestone and tied for 12th at the British Open. Now, he’s off to a strong start in the PGA, with the Olympic golf tournament beginning in two weeks.
“I’d rather do that one week, one week and one week,” Grillo said of the compact schedule. “Because if you play good the week before, you can carry that on into the next week. That’s what I’ve been doing. I played well in Troon. I played well last week (Canadian Open), and you know, I’m carrying that into this week, which is very important. It’s not like the past two weeks weren’t important.
“But we’re playing this week here and this is the important one. And we’re going to do the same, carrying on to Rio, and hopefully we can carry on into the playoffs and so on and so on.”
Ranked 37th in the world, Grillo has made the cut in his previous four majors. Clearly, the big stage doesn’t bother him, and no stage is bigger for someone from Argentina than a prestigious event in Brazil.
“Playing anywhere in the world, it helps your confidence,” Grillo said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s here, Argentina or China, it doesn’t matter.
“It definitely helps, especially last week we play in Canada with very tough conditions, and that really helps going into a major. It’s great playing good anywhere … and to bring that momentum into a major, it’s very good.”
Grillo, 23, has been quite good for a while on the PGA Tour, even if he is anything but a household name. He won the Web.com Tour championship in 2015 and, two weeks later, won the Frys.com, which opened the current season.
He will team with Fabian Gomez for Argentina at the Olympics, and he’ll be thinking about the biggest hero in Argentina golf, Angel Cabrera, who owns a Masters and U.S. Open title.
“I mean, he just keeps pretty simple, just play your own ball and you don’t have to care what everybody else is doing,” Grillo said. “That’s what I’ve been trying to do the last year and it’s been so far working.
“So I’m going to continue with that.
“He won two majors when I was just a little kid. Watching him win the Masters — well, the U.S. Open and then the Masters — was unbelievable. Watching him win the green jacket back in Argentina, it’s a lot of motivation.”
Grillo was in position to tie or surpass Walker, but couldn’t birdie the only two par-5 holes, the 17th and 18th. Walker birdied 18,
“Making par out here, it’s not a bad score,” Grillo said. “On 18, I was a bit unlucky. I was in a little divot on the second shot and so I had to hit kind of a low show instead of a high one, which kind of lands soft on the green. It’s a shame I cannot make a birdie on 18, especially such a short par-5.”
Early Thursday, there were two eagles and 20 birdies on 18.
Still, Grillo is in prime position after one round played in brutal heat.
“This is one of the biggest tournaments in the world,” he said, “and it’s nice to post a good score in these kind of conditions.”
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