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Rory fails to convert his chances as Tiger just hangs in


Stellar three-ball: Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and defending champion Justin Thomas
Stellar three-ball: Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and defending champion Justin Thomas

By Brian Keogh

Tiger Woods mixed the sublime with the ridiculous as Rory McIlroy failed to find top gear and Rickie Fowler streaked out in front with a superb 65 in the opening round of the US PGA Championship at a sweltering Bellerive.

Woods played like a cross between Hulk Hogan and Ben Hogan before battling back from three over after two holes to match McIlroy with a level-par 70.

If ever there was an example of scorecards not painting pictures, this was it.

McIlroy did little wrong, sandwiching birdies at his second and fourth holes between sloppy bogeys at his first and ninth before finishing Faldo-style with nine successive pars.

But as Woods hit the ball to all corners of St Louis early in his round, he gave McIlroy a close-up look at a player slowly working his way around a course when not playing his best and posting a score.

"Just hung in there," said Woods who found rough with his opening tee shot, hacked it 65 yards, hit his third to 30 feet and followed that with such a poor putt that he had to hole a seven-footer to avoid double bogey.

McIlroy was busy opening with a bogey himself, bunkering his approach from the right rough.

But the huge crowds following a stellar three-ball that also featured defending champion Justin Thomas was treated to more Woods horror on the next.

After finding more rough from the tee, he hit his approach into the lake right of the green, hit a poor pitch to 21 feet and two-putted for a double bogey six.

That he managed to regroup after changing his sweat-soaked shirt in a toilet on the next was nothing short of remarkable.

"I was trying to grind away at it, pick away at it, and trying to get to maybe one over par at the turn," Woods said.

In the end, having followed a birdie at the 12th with a bogey at the 16th, he birdied the 18th to turn in two over par before playing close to his best stuff on the way home, holing a brace of eight footers for birdies at the first and eighth.

McIlroy has two PGA titles on his CV and while he played solidly all day, he struggled to convert his chances, hitting 15 greens and taking 33 putts.

"It wasn't that easy out there," he said. "The scores sort of reflect that. Obviously, Rickie is at 5. A few guys are at 3.

"I wish I could have taken advantage of the two par 5s. I gave myself a few chances. I finished the round off with nine pars, and it could have been a little better."

The Holywood star was playing with anti-inflammatory patches on his right forearm but he refused to blame that for his failure to break par.

"I started feeling it the weekend of Firestone," he said. "Funny enough, it hurts the most with chipping because I sort of hold the angle a little bit."

While his score wasn't what he wanted, he enjoyed playing with Woods in front of a such a massive crowd with his best pal Harry Diamond on the bag.

"It's cool," he said. "I said to Harry out there. Harry caddied for me in the 2005 Irish Open when I was 16, and then we're walking the fairways in a group like this today, 13 years later. So it's pretty cool."

Fowler (29) is part of the McIlroy generation and having decided to change outfit and wear a yellow top as a tribute to the late Jarrod Lyle, he had some good karma as he made six birdies in his 65 with four of them coming on his back nine.

That was good enough to give him a two-shot lead over a seven-man group - Austin Cook, Ian Poulter, Pat Perez, Jason Day, Brian Gay, Stewart Cink and Ollie Schniederjans.

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