Rory McIlroy looked to have finally found the fast start he has been craving in a major on day one of the 104th US PGA Championship.
Since winning the last of his four majors in the 2014 US PGA, McIlroy is a combined 35 over par in the first round of golf’s four biggest tournaments, his latest effort being a one-over-par 73 in April’s Masters.
But, perhaps inspired by being paired with Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth – who is chasing the career grand slam in Tulsa – it was a different story at Southern Hills, where Woods won the 13th of his 15 majors in 2007.
Starting on the back nine, McIlroy parred the 10th and 11th before hitting a superb approach to two feet on the 12th to set up a tap-in birdie.
The par-five 13th measures 628 yards but McIlroy was able to reach a greenside bunker in two and get up and down for birdie before holing from 25 feet on the 14th and 10 feet on the next to make it four in a row.
Pars on the 16th, 17th and 18th took McIlroy to the turn in 31 and a shot ahead of American Davis Riley, with Justin Rose part of the group a stroke further back on two under.
Woods had made the ideal start with a close-range birdie on the 10th and also picked up a shot on the 14th – after using one of several waits on the tee to tuck into a large sandwich – before dropping his first shot of the day on the 15th following a badly mishit tee shot.
Another bogey on the ninth, caused by a pulled approach into a bunker, dropped Woods back to level par, with Spieth two over following three bogeys in the space of four holes.
The marquee group had taken two hours and 40 minutes to complete their first nine holes, with the course layout at Southern Hills causing several bottlenecks.
The second green, third tee, fifth green, sixth tee and seventh tee are all within close proximity of each other, while the first and 10th holes head in different directions from the same small teeing ground.
“They are going to have to be fairly careful with how they set the golf course up because of where some of the tee boxes are,” England’s Tyrrell Hatton had warned before play got under way.
“The rounds could be just stupidly slow, which at the end of the day no one wants. You want to get around in a reasonable time. Hopefully, they’re fairly smart with how they do that.”
Ryder Cup team-mate Ian Poulter feels Southern Hills is “as good a tough course as I’ve seen in a long time”, but agreed with Hatton’s assessment on the pace of play.
“We’re teeing off over two greens so you have a stop-start issue right there,” Poulter said. “We played one hole on the back nine where you’re winging it straight over the green you’ve just come off. It’s going to be long.”