Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy set for early charge at PGA Championship

St. Louis (AFP) - Tiger Woods stumbled badly at the start while Rory McIlroy opened bogey-birdie in Thursday’s first round of the 100th PGA Championship, the superstar pairing struggling early in the year’s final major showdown.

McIlroy, Woods and defending champion Justin Thomas began off the 10th tee at Bellerive Country Club with thousands of spectators lining the fairway, standing 10 deep in spots just to catch a glimpse of the master shotmakers.

Woods, making a comeback after spinal fusion surgery, punched out of the right rough, reached the edge of the green in three and sank a nervy five-foot putt for bogey.

The 14-time major champion found water with his second shot and made a double-bogey six at 11 while McIlroy and Thomas, who opened with a par, birdied, the Northern Irishman sinking an eight-footer to reach level par.

Woods briefly led in the final round of last month’s British Open, but he hasn’t won a major since the 2008 US Open or any title since 2013.

Four-time major champion McIlroy, whose last major triumph came in 2014, dropped his approach on his opening hole inches from the cup but it bounded into a bunker and he missed a par putt.

Topping the early leaderboard was England’s Ian Poulter with three birdies on his first six holes on the back nine, with New Zealand’s Ryan Fox and US Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk on two-under par over the 7,316-yard, par-70 layout.

Many players teed off with a heavy heart after Wednesday’s death of Australian Jarrod Lyle, a former tour player who lost his battle with leukemia at age 36.

“The courage shown through his battle is an inspiration to all of us. He made the world a better place. RIP mate,” McIlroy tweeted.

Second-ranked Thomas, who opened with a par, comes off a victory at last week’s WGC Bridgestone Invitational. He could become the first player since McIlroy in 2014 to make the PGA his second win in back-to-back weeks and join Woods as the only men since 1937 to win consecutive PGAs.

“We lost a great one today. RIP, Jarrod,” Thomas tweeted. “We will all be thinking about him and his family this week.”

Lyle, whose best US PGA Tour finish was a share of fourth in 2012 at Riviera, played in two major tournaments, sharing 48th at the 2008 US Open and missing the cut at the 2006 British Open.

“Incredibly sad news about Jarrod Lyle,” tweeted British Open champion Francesco Molinari of Italy. “Tough times for everyone on tour losing someone so special.”

Molinari was set for an afternoon start over the 7,316-yard, par-70 layout alongside this year’s other two major winners – Americans Patrick Reed from the Masters and Brooks Koepka from the US Open.

“You were and always will be a fighter and will be missed by so many people. Rest In Peace Jarrod,” Reed tweeted.

Lyle played in 121 PGA events from 2006 to 2016 and won two developmental Web.com Tour events. He was diagnosed with leukemia as a youth and twice thought he had beaten cancer only to have it return last year.

“Deeply saddened to hear about the passing of my friend Jarrod Lyle,” tweeted world number 10 Jason Day. “Jarrod will forever be an inspiration to us all.”

Australian Day, the 2015 PGA Championship winner, makes a morning back-nine start with five-time major winner Phil Mickelson and 2011 PGA winner Keegan Bradley.

Day opened with three pars while 48-year-old left-hander Mickelson, hoping to qualify on points for a 12th consecutive US Ryder Cup squad, sank a 23-foot birdie putt at the par-4 11th only to bogey 12, three-putting from 12 feet.