Rory McIlroy delighted with ‘brilliant start’ in PGA Championship, leads by one stroke after first round

Tulsa, Oklahoma. – Rory McIlroy was more interested in his history in the majors than he was in his exotic heritage at Southern Hills Thursday at the PGA Championship.

Southern Hills proved favorable to early runners. As for McIlroy, he has failed to break the level in the opening round 15 times in the 27 majors he has played since his last win.

So there was a reason for this bounce in his stride when he finished an 18-foot birdie for the under-65s, giving him a shot at the end of a warm, windy day.

He was asked – yes or no – if this was the start he wanted.

And he said, “Yes or no?” Yeah, look, it was a great start. I was taking some good level. I think when your game feels like this, it’s just about going out and sticking to your game plan and executing as well as you can, and you kind of stay in your own little world.”

McIlroy had a one-shot lead over Pebble Beach winner Tom Hogg and Will Xalatores, who finished his 66 with a 30-foot birdie, his fourth shot of 25 feet or more.

Justin Thomas, in an effort to get rid of sinus infections and allergies, made one of only four birds on the 18th hole for 67 afternoons, when the greens were more foot traffic and scoring was more difficult. Also in 67 was Matt Kochar and Abraham Anser.

The start was exactly what McIlroy needed as he tried to finish nearly eight years without a major, and many of those opportunities are doomed to bad starts. It was his lowest start in a major since 5-under-66 when he won the PGA Award in Valhalla in 2014, the last of his four majors.

In seven previous majors at Southern Hills, the winner had at least a share of the lead after the first round and each champion was at the top of the 36-hole leaderboard until its completion.

This bodes well for McIlroy, as well as his game. He chose to attack with the driver, leaving his wedges equal 4 and 3 irons in a pair of 5 feet for 628 yards and 665 yards.

“I feel like this course allows you to be very aggressive if you want to be, so I hit quite a few drivers and took advantage of my height and finished with some nice iron play and some nice iron play,” he said.

Masters champion Scotty Scheffler had to save a tie with a shot into the water on the 18th for 71st hole, the first time he’s on par in two months.

He said, “I didn’t shoot myself from that.”

Jordan Spieth, who joined Tiger Woods and McIlroy in a group that drew a raucous and thoroughly entertaining crowd, opened with 72 in his bid to capture the only major that kept him from the Grand Slam.

The difference between McIlroy and Woods, who finished the race in 4 on 74, was clear early in the round. On the 12th hole from 461 yards, Woods hit the iron from a tee that left him 178 yards. McIlroy bombarded the driver with a slight fade in the prevailing breeze, leaving him 86 yards. Hit a lob wedge to a birdie’s foot.

That was the start of McIlroy’s four straight birds, which included 6 to 25 feet for his longest bird of the day at number three and fourteen.

McIlroy made a birdie on two 5s of the green bunkers. It hit another big motor in the hard fraction of a second by 4 seconds, leaving 7 irons to about 10 feet.

“Making a bird there is a real bonus,” he said.

The warmth—not the furnace heat of the 2007 PGA in August—and moderate winds made perfect goals, although Southern Hills still had adequate defense.

Twenty-six players from the field of 156 tie-breakers, only nine of them in the afternoon. McIlroy will have to deal with a late start on Friday.

“I don’t think a top champion here was less than 10% of the record, so you know the results won’t go much further,” Hogg said. “It’s grinding here.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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