Gary Woodland leads the 100th PGA Championship

St. Louis (AFP) - Leader Gary Woodland and many of his closest pursuers were set to tee off early as Friday’s second round of the 100th PGA Championship began while Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy make afternoon starts.

Woodland, who has never finished better than 12th in 27 major starts, fired a six-under par 64 Thursday to seize a one-stroke lead over fellow American Rickie Fowler at Bellerive Country Club.

“I’ve started to feel pretty comfortable this week and it was nice to see results,” 44th-ranked Woodland said.

“I’ve been hitting the ball very well. Now when I get out of position I have the short game to give myself a chance. And to see putts go in was very, very cool.”

Woodland sank a career-high 153 feet of putts in round one and begins round two in the seventh group off the 10th tee with Spain’s Sergio Garcia, the 2017 Masters champion, and Kevin Kisner, among a pack of 11 golfers sharing fifth on 67.

Two-time major winner Zach Johnson and South African Brandon Stone, who share third on 66, will be in hot pursuit quickly. Stone was in the first group to begin on the back nine while Johnson is two groups behind Woodland.

World number one Dustin Johnson, Britain’s Justin Rose and Belgium’s Thomas Pieters are also early starters in the pack on 67.

Woods, a 14-time major champion in his comeback season after spinal fusion surgery, drew the largest crowds in a supergroup with McIlroy and second-ranked defending champion Justin Thomas. But Woods and McIlroy grinded out par 70s to share 48th place with Thomas little better on 69.

“Just hung in there. I was able to grind out a score,” Woods said. “It kept me in the golf tournament.”

They figure to command attention again as the fifth-to-last group off the first tee but moving their way up the leaderboard will be the bigger challenge on greens that were iffy even before absorbing two days of tournament punishment.

“They’re bumpy, for sure,” Woods said. “The shorter putts are a little more interesting because they’re a little chewed up.”

World number nine Fowler, this year’s Masters runner-up, has eight top-five major finishes without a victory but matched the low major round of his career with a 65.

He starts in the fifth afternoon group off the first tee with Britain’s Ian Poulter, in the group on 67, and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, another shot back.

“It was fun to feed off each other,” Fowler said of his trio’s success. “Hopefully we can do that again.”

Three-time major winner Jordan Spieth, ranked eighth, can complete a Career Grand Slam with a victory this week. But the 25-year-old American opened with a double bogey and shot 71 Thursday to share 62nd.