JOHNS CREEK, Ga. (AP) — Rory McIlroy was back on the course at the PGA Championship with a heavily taped right wrist, chasing his second major championship.
He’s got a lot of work to do to catch Steve Stricker.
So does everyone else.
The Wisconsin native set the early pace with a 7-under 63 at Atlanta Athletic Club, just a hair away from posting the best score ever in one of golf’s biggest events.
Stricker was scheduled to tee off in the afternoon Friday, giving the morning starters a chance to take a run at his record-tying score.
Those included McIlroy, who blew away the field at the U.S. Open and came into the year’s final major as the favorite.
But a mishap Thursday put a damper on his chances, and a triple bogey in the second round left him with a daunting nine-stroke deficit to make up.
McIlroy was injured when he took a foolish swing off a thick tree root at the third hole, forcing him to play most of the opening round with an aching, taped-up wrist.
He still managed a 70, and decided to play on after an MRI showed there was no chance of causing more damage.
“It’s the last major of the year,” McIlroy said. “I’ve got, what, six or seven months to the Masters? So I might as well try and play through the pain and get it over and done with.”
With a wrapping on his wrist and forearm, McIlroy took a shorter-then-usual warmup at the range. He then teed off on the back side in a group that included two other major champions, Masters winner Charl Schwartzel and British Open champ Darren Clarke.
McIlroy got his score to 1 under on the day and for the tournament when he rolled in a 40-footer for birdie at the 16th.
But the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland ran into major problems at the par-3 17th, dunking his tee shot in the water.
After shooting a stunned look toward his caddie, McIlroy wedged his ball onto the green from the drop zone. But he needed three putts to get down and staggered toward the 18th tee with a triple bogey.
McIlroy made the turn with a 37 and was 2 over for the tournament.
There were a couple of players making a charge. D.A. Points shot a 3-under 32 on the front and closed within three strokes of Stricker. Anders Hansen also was at 4 under with four holes to play.
So many wacky things happened on the first day at this course in Atlanta’s sprawling northern suburbs, Stricker’s brilliance and McIlroy’s injury were only part of the story.
Tiger Woods opened with a 77, his worst score ever in the PGA. Japanese star Ryo Ishikawa put six – yes, SIX! – balls in the water and wound up with an 85, the highest score of his professional career. The groundskeepers had to contend with mowers gone wild, hastily repairing two greens that were damaged while being clipped.
The craziness extended into Friday, when Brandt Snedeker showed up about 2 minutes late for his 8:10 a.m. tee time and was assessed a two-stroke penalty.
Snedeker was seen running toward the first tee, but he didn’t get there quick enough to avoid the penalty. It wasn’t immediately known what caused him to be late.
There were no glitches for Stricker, at least on Thursday. Starting on the back, he cruised through the tough four-hole finishing stretch with two birdies, sparked by a hybrid tee shot to 10 feet at the 15th, a monstrous par-3.
“I really felt like I was in trouble coming into this tournament,” Stricker said. “I really didn’t feel that good on the course.”
Well, imagine how Woods felt.
He started out like the Tiger of old, making three birdies in the first five holes for a share of the early lead. He ended like the Tiger we’ve seen more and more of over the past three years, spraying two shots into the water, a dozen into the sand – and not many at all in the fairway.
The only time he’s done worse in a major was that 81 in the 2002 British Open, largely because of hideous weather at Muirfield.
He couldn’t blame this one on the conditions in Deep South. It’s expected to be sunny and sweltering through the weekend.
“I’m not down,” Woods said. “I’m really angry right now.”
Stricker’s Wisconsin neighbor, Jerry Kelly, had a career-best 65 Thursday and was two shots behind heading into his afternoon round.
Former PGA champion Shaun Micheel, who opened with a surprising 66, tumbled off the leaderboard after playing his first 11 holes at 9 over.