Monday, 2nd October 2023

McIlroy seizes lead at PGA as Tiger, Spieth struggle

Rory McIlroy fired his best opening round at a major in 11 years on Thursday to seize the lead at the PGA Championship while Tiger Woods struggled in his second comeback event after severe leg injuries.

TULSA, OKLAHOMA – MAY 19: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays his shot from the sixth tee during the first round of the 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club on May 19, 2022 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Christian Petersen/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by Christian Petersen / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

Rory McIlroy fired his best opening round at a major in 11 years on Thursday to seize the lead at the PGA Championship while Tiger Woods struggled in his second comeback event after severe leg injuries.

Seventh-ranked McIlroy, chasing his first major title since the 2014 PGA, fired a five-under par 65 to grab a one-stroke lead over Americans Will Zalatoris and Tom Hoge with much of the field still on the course.

Sparked by four consecutive birdies, his longest such run in a major, McIlroy delivered his best opening round in a major since a 65 at the 2011 US Open, which he won for his first major title.

“It was a great start to the tournament,” McIlroy said. “It was nice to get off to that good start and sort of keep it going.”

Four-time major winner McIlroy started on the back nine with 15-time major winner Woods and Jordan Spieth before a huge crowd.

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 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 last led a major round at the 2014 PGA, has had 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 put his approach inches from the cup and birdied the par-4 12th, escaped a bunker for a tap-in birdie at the par-5 13th and made a 26-foot birdie putt at the par-3 14th.

“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,” McIlroy said.

McIlroy sank a nine-foot birdie putt at 15 to take the solo lead and kept it with par saves at 16 thanks to a chip to two feet and a six-foot putt at 18.

McIlroy sank a 14-foot birdie putt at the second and an 11-foot birdie at the par-5 fifth, but missed the green and made bogeys at the par-3 sixth and par-3 eighth holes before closing at the ninth with a birdie putt from just inside 19 feet.

Zalatoris made a career-best 150-feet of putts in the round, including birdie efforts from 30 feet at the ninth, 23 feet at the 12th, 26 feet at the 13th and 24 feet at the seventh.

“It’s super fun whenever you have days like that,” Zalatoris said. “It was kind of a bizarre day.’

Hoge was happy with his 66 as well.

“I was scrambling pretty good and got up-and-down on all of them,” Hoge said. “That really gave me some momentum going forward.”

Tiger’s leg hurting

Former world number one Woods, now ranked 818th, admitted he his surgically repaired right leg was hurting.

“My leg is not feeling as good as I would like it to be,” said Woods, who birdied the 10th and 14th holes for a fast start.

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 detoured through bunkers on the way to a bogeys at the fourth and 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.

Among those on the course in pursuit of McIlroy, top-ranked Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, a winner in four of his past eight starts, was 2-under through six holes.

World number two Jon Rahm, the 2021 US Open winner from Spain, was 1-under after six and US playing partner Collin Morikawa, last year’s British Open champion, was at level par.