Rory McIlroy finally got the quick start he’d been craving in a Major to outpace playing partner Tiger Woods in the 104th US PGA Championship.
Since winning the last of his four majors at the US PGA in 2014, McIlroy had made 35-over par in the first round of golf’s four major tournaments combined, his most recent attempt being a one-over-par 73 at the Masters in April.
But perhaps inspired by the pairing with Woods and Jordan Spieth — who is chasing the career grand slam in Tulsa — it was a different story on opening day at Southern Hills, where Woods won the 13th of his 15 majors in 2007.
McIlroy carded seven birdies and two bogeys in an opening 65 to set the clubhouse goal at five under par, one shot ahead of American pairing Will Zalatoris and Tom Hoge.
Woods had under par his first five holes in two, but he struggled from there, admitting his right leg – which he feared would have to be amputated after last year’s car accident – “didn’t feel too good as I would like.”
The 46-year-old eventually signed for a four-over-par 74, Spieth returned a 72.
“It was a great start to the tournament,” said McIlroy, who made four straight birdies on his first nine and had an outside chance to level the lowest score in men’s majors history when he hit six-under after 14 holes .
“I played well when I came in here. I wore good form. Obviously I took a lot from that last round at Augusta (64), played well there at Wells Fargo and played well in the practice rounds earlier this week.
“I think if that’s what your game feels like, you just have to go out there and really stick to your game plan, execute as best you can and just stay in your own little world.
“I managed that very well today. It was nice to get off to a good start and somehow carry on.
“I feel like this course, it lets you be pretty aggressive off the tee if you want to, so I met quite a few drivers out there and took advantage of my distance and finished with a nice iron play and some nice putting.
“It’s a great start, but I’m not making any progress. I’ve done pretty much everything you need to do out there and I’ll need to do the same for the next three days.
Woods faces an uphill battle to make the cut, like he did at the Masters, where he opened with a 71 but unsurprisingly faded and blasted back-to-back rounds of 78 over the weekend.
“I drove well, but my iron shots weren’t very good,” said Woods. “I didn’t get very close to the ball. I had a great start and couldn’t keep it up. I really didn’t look around for Birdie that much.
“I struggled to get the ball onto the green and missed quite a few iron shots in both directions. It was a frustrating day.”
Woods noticeably limp as he finished his post-round television interviews, adding, “My leg doesn’t feel as good as I’d like it to. We will start the recovery process and take care of it tomorrow.
“I just can’t load it. Loading hurts, triggering hurts, and walking hurts, and turning hurts. It’s only golf. If I don’t do that, then I’m fine.”
Scotsman Robert MacIntyre and England’s Tyrrell Hatton are five strokes behind McIlroy after rounds of 70 matches