Gary Woodland leads the 100th PGA Championship

St. Louis (AFP) - American Gary Woodland kept his lead with an early birdie in Friday’s second round of the PGA Championship while Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy prepared for an afternoon start.

Woodland began on the back nine at Bellerive Country Club and birided the par-4 11th, dropping his approach two feet from the cup and tapping in to reach 7-under after firing a six-under 64 in Thursday’s opening round.

Woodland, who has never finished better than 12th in 27 major starts, was one stroke ahead of South African Brandon Stone, another 10th tee early starter who fired back-to-back birdies at the par-3 16th and par-5 17th.

Stone, coming off a victory in last month’s Scottish Open, opened with a 66 and teed off in the first back-nine group Friday. He began with six pars then sank a 22-foot birdie putt at 16 and added a seven-foot birdie putt at 17.

Rickie Fowler, an afternoon starter who equaled his best major round with a 65 on Thursday, shared third with fellow American Kevin Kisner, who opened with back-to-back birdies playing alongside Woodland.

British Open champion Francesco Molinari of Italy birdied the 10th and 12th holes to share fifth on 4-under par after an opening 68. Alongside him was two-time major winner Zach Johnson, the American off to a bogey-birdie back-nine start.

Molinari was playing in a group of the year’s major winners alongside Masters champion Patrick Reed, who was 1-over for the tournament, and US Open winner Brooks Koepka, who was at 2-under.

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.

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 71.