AFP/ Tulsa, United States
Rory McIlroy, chasing his first major title since 2014, seized the early clubhouse lead in yesterday’s opening round of the PGA Championship while Tiger Woods struggled in his second comeback event after severe leg injuries.
Sparked by four consecutive birdies, his longest such run in a major, McIlroy fired a five-under par 65 at Southern Hills to seize a one-stroke lead over American Will Zalatoris.
Four-time major winner McIlroy, whose last major victory came at the 2014 PGA, started on the back nine with 15-time major winner Woods and Jordan Spieth before a huge crowd.
“It was a great start to the tournament,” McIlroy said. “I had a really solid round.”
Woods, who returned last month at the Masters 14 months after a car crash left him unable to walk for months, birdied the 10th and par-3 14th to start but made bogeys on six of his last 10 holes to shoot 74 while Spieth, chasing a win for a career Grand Slam, stumbled to a 72.
“Off to a good start,” Woods said. “Hit a lot of bad iron shots late. I just never got the ball close to have any good birdie putts. I kept putting it into bad spots.
“It was a frustrating day.”
McIlroy, who has not led or shared a lead after any major round since the 2014 PGA, battled poor major starts but the Masters runner-up reeled off four consecutive birdies from the 12th through 15th holes.
The 33-year-old from Northern Ireland dropped his approach inches from the cup and birdied the par-4 12th, blasted out of a bunker at the par-5 13th to two feet and sank the birdie putt and curled in a spectacular 26-foot birdie putt at the par-3 14th.
World number seven McIlroy left his approach nine feet from the hole at the 15th and sank the putt to seize the solo lead, then kept it with par saves at 16 thanks to a chip to two feet and a tense six-foot putt at 18.
McIlroy sank a 14-foot birdie putt at the second, saved par from six feet at the third but missed an eight-foot birdie putt at the fourth.
He bounced back at the par-5 fifth by blasting out of a bunker to 11 feet and sinking his birdie putt, but missed the green and a nine-foot par putt at the par-3 sixth.
McIlroy hit into a bunker and missed a six-foot putt to bogey the par-3 eighth to fall back, but closed at the ninth with a birdie putt from just inside 19 feet.
Woods, the former world number one now ranked 818th, was cheered throughout his round but admitted he was feeling discomfort in his surgically repaired right leg.
“Yeah, my leg is not feeling as good as I would like it to be,” said Woods, who blasted his first shot 339 yards off the 10th tee into the fairway, then drilled his second shot just outside of three feet and made birdie.
After saving par from a bunker at the par-5 13th, Woods hit a 5-iron to 13 feet and sank the birdie putt as a roar erupted from spectators.
But the 46-year-old found bunkers at the 15th and 18th and missed 20-foot par putts at each, then added bogeys at the first and second holes before stopping the skid with a four-foot birdie putt at the third. Woods also found bunkers on the way to a bogeys at the fourth and par-3 eighth and went over the ninth green to close with another bogey.
Three-time major winner Spieth birdied the 12th hole but fell back with bogeys at 15, 16 and 18. He had a three-putt bogey at the sixth but answered with a birdie at the seventh.
The world’s three highest-ranked players, reigning major champions all, teed off in the afternoon in pursuit of McIlroy.
Top-ranked Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, a winner in four of his past eight starts, joined world number two Jon Rahm, the 2021 US Open winner from Spain, and third-ranked Collin Morikawa, last year’s British Open champion.
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