Rory McIlroy got his bid to end an eight-year major drought off to a solid start as he finished day one of the US PGA Championship with a one-shot lead.
Northern Ireland’s four-time major champion closed with a birdie to card a five-under 65 and sat back as the late starters toiled in windier conditions.
Americans Tom Hoge and Will Zalatoris are McIlroy’s nearest challengers on four under at Southern Hills, Oklahoma.
England’s Matt Fitzpatrick is also in contention after a two-under-par 68.
“Overall, it was a great day,” said McIlroy, who is chasing a third US PGA title. “Great to get off to a great start at a major championship for a change.
“I came in here knowing my game is in good shape so it is a matter of executing the shots you know you can – I need to replicate that and not get ahead of myself.”
McIlroy was in a marquee group alongside Americans Tiger Woods, who signed for a four-over 74, and Jordan Spieth, who finished with a two-over 72. at Southern Hills in Oklahoma.
World number 40 Hoge, who won his first PGA Tour event at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am earlier this year, and Zalatoris also enjoyed the best of the early conditions.
The wind made the course play around a short harder in the afternoon but world number nine Justin Thomas bucked the trend, birdieing the last for a three-under 67. He sits level with Matt Kuchar and Abraham Ancer, who both completed their rounds in lighter winds.
The world’s three top-ranked players – Masters winner Scottie Scheffler, US Open victor Jon Rahm and Open champion Collin Morikawa – were among those who struggled in the afternoon and all finished over par.
McIlroy stutters after fast start
Starting from the 10th tee, McIlroy’s putter was as fiery as the sweltering Tulsa heat and his nerve as cold as the staggeringly priced on-site refreshments as he made four successive birdies to wrangle the lead after six holes.
The 33-year-old is looking to record a third PGA Championship win, with the second of his Wanamaker Trophy successes coming in August 2014 at Valhalla, just a few weeks after he had won his first Claret Jug at The Open.
It was McIlroy’s fourth major title and the great Jack Nicklaus proclaimed afterwards that the fresh-faced prospect could go on to “win 15 or 20” of golf’s elite prizes.
Eight years later and McIlroy is yet to add to that tally – instead he has 14 top-10 finishes and a runner-up place at last month’s Masters.
He would couch that by pointing out, as he did to BBC Radio 5 Live’s All About: The Open podcast, that he has won pretty much everything else in that time, but his recent major form has been characterised by sluggish starts that have shot him out of contention.
Heading into this event, McIlroy was a cumulative 35 over par in the first rounds of major championships since his last title in 2014, having been 19 under for his opening rounds in the four years before that.
On Thursday – in the absence of defending champion Phil Mickelson, the man McIlroy edged out for his last major victory – he maintained his early charge by nudging in another birdie at the 500-yard par-four second, his 11th, to move two strokes clear of the field and then salvaged par on the next hole.
Showing his daughter Poppy an old picture of himself on the media centre wall earlier this week, McIlroy is reportedly said to have joked to her that “that was when daddy was good”.
A fifth major title would certainly reinforce that he still is and, despite missing a birdie chance on his 13th, McIlroy clipped out of the greenside bunker on the par-five fifth and rolled in the putt to extend his advantage to three strokes.
But his momentum was stunted with the first blemish on his card at the par-three sixth moments later, squirrelling a par putt narrowly wide, and a wayward drive followed as McIlroy’s stellar opening round threatened to unravel down the stretch.
He scrambled for par before a second bogey of the day allowed Hoge and Zalatoris to take a share of top spot, only to then roll in his seventh birdie from 20 feet on the final hole to sign for his joint second-lowest opening round in a major – only going lower with a 63 at the Open in 2010, when he finished joint third.
Afternoon struggles in Oklahoma
World number one Scheffler looked set to repeat some of the magic that saw him slip on the Green Jacket at Augusta National last month when he eagled the par-five fifth to get to two under, but he was unable to build any momentum on a blustery afternoon.
The 25-year-old cancelled out a bogey at nine with a birdie at 10, only to drop a stroke after a remarkable series of shots on the 12th – the American found a route between two trees following a miscued drive and then flopped out of a bunker, but missed his par putt.
Four bogeys either side of another birdie followed for Scheffler, who then drove his tee shot into a stream on the 18th but managed to salvage par and finish at one over.
“That’s what happens when you play late in the day,” said Scheffler. “Today was windy so the course was challenging, and I didn’t keep myself in position on the back nine and paid the price for it.”
Playing partners Morikawa and Rahm also failed to reach their usually impeccable standards, with Morikawa ending the day two over and Spain’s Rahm finishing at three over.
Fitzpatrick fared better, opening his round with successive birdies and seeing two more wiped out by a couple of dropped shots as he stayed within touching distance of the lead.
Compatriot Tyrrell Hatton finished level, alongside Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre and Irishman Shane Lowry, while English duo Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood were both one over.
Woods appears in pain at finish
Woods made a remarkable comeback at the Masters in April, 14 months after a career-threatening car crash that left him unable to walk for three months.
The world number 818 said that felt like “Everest” and, after more time on the golf course, insisted that he was now ready to contend.
He started brightly with birdies on his first and fifth holes.
But the 15-time major champion appeared to be struggling the deeper into his round he got, wincing after tee shots and he closed with successive bogeys to finish four over.
“It has felt better before. It’s a little sore right now,” said Woods about his leg. “Lots of treatment, lots of ice baths, and try and get the inflammation out and try and get ready for tomorrow.”
Spieth, who needs to win this major to complete a career grand slam, had a mixed round in which he carded two birdies and four bogeys