Rory McIlroy got the dream start that has eluded him at recent majors to grab the first-round lead at the PGA Championship on Thursday, outshining the two other members of his ‘super group’ Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth.
While Woods (74) and Spieth (72) laboured, McIlroy made it look all too easy at Southern Hills Country Club by carding a five-under 65, his best opening round at a major since the 2011 US Open.
That was good enough for a one-stroke advantage over Will Zalatoris and Tom Hoge, with Matt Kuchar, Justin Thomas and Mexico’s Abraham Ancer returning 67s to sit two adrift.
Starting on the back nine, McIlroy’s day featured a stretch of four straight birdies from the 12th, his longest such run at a major, then added two more after the turn before picking up bogeys at six and eight.
But McIlroy would make sure the round would end on an upbeat note by rolling in an 19-footer for birdie at the last.
Looking to end an eight-year major drought, McIlroy arrived in Tulsa in superb form having recorded top-five finishes at his last two events, including a runner-up result at the Masters where he closed with sizzling final round of 64.
His score on Thursday makes him the first player to shoot 65 or better in the final round of one major and 65 or better in the first round of the next.
“I’ve been playing well coming in here,” said McIlroy, twice winner of the PGA Championship. “I’ve been carrying some good form.
“I think when your game is feeling like that, it’s just a matter of going out there and really sticking to your game plan, executing as well as you possibly can, and just sort of staying in your own little world.”
McIlroy’s first-round struggles at majors are well documented, the Northern Irishman making a habit of having to dig himself out of early holes.
Those sputtering starts are seen as the main reason he has not been able to add to his haul of four majors.
But in this major Woods will be among those needing to rebound after slumping to a four-over 74.
Back in action for the first time since his sensational return to competition at April’s Masters, just 14 months after a car crash nearly claimed his right leg, Woods wasted no time in firing up the crowd with a birdie on his opening hole.
The 15-time major winner would turn up the buzz with a second birdie at the 14th but it was mostly all downhill from there as he piled up seven bogeys, including two to close out his round, to sit nine off the lead and work to do on Friday just to make the cut.
The pained expression on his face as he walked off the course was in stark contrast to the joyful look he had five weeks earlier at Augusta National when the 46-year-old stunned the golf world by firing an opening one-under-par 71 on his return to competition.
“It was a frustrating day,” said Woods, adding that his leg did not feel as good as he thought it would.
“Loading hurts, pressing off it hurts, and walking hurts, and twisting hurts.
“It’s just golf.”
It was also a day of frustration for Spieth as his bid to complete the career Grand Slam of golf’s four majors got off to an unimpressive start with a scrappy 72.
The marquee group of McIlroy, Woods and Spieth, who own a combined 22 major titles, was like a giant magnet pulling in the early spectators who lined almost every hole from tee to green.
The afternoon wave had its high-profile trio featuring the world’s top three ranked players in Masters champion Scottie Scheffler (number one), US Open champion Jon Rahm (number two) and British Open winner Collin Morikawa (number three).
But it also had the tougher conditions. As the wind and temperatures picked up, none of the heavy-hitters made an impact with Scheffler returning a 71, Morikawa 72 and Rahm 73.
India’s Anirban Lahiri, who practiced with Tiger Woods on Wednesday, finished the opening day tied 78th along with 20 others.
Lahiri settled for a 73 after he opened his day with a bogey and birdie on the 10th and 11th hole. He dropped a bogey on the fourth from the greenside bunker before taking a double bogey on the par-5, fifth hole after finding himself in trouble on the greenside bunker.
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