Woods and McIlroy start fast on day of low scores and high temperatures at Kiawah

Woods and McIlroy start fast on day of low scores and high temperatures at Kiawah

Rory McIlroy is one shot off the lead after an opening-round 67.
Darren Carroll/SI

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – Tiger Woods teed off at 8:30 a.m. and was toweling himself off on the first hole. Playing partner Martin Kaymer sweated through his blue shirt, and Woods perspired through his gray slacks.

The morning starters felt like they were playing under a wool blanket at the warm, windless and wet Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, and they took advantage with a flurry of red numbers in the first round of the 94th PGA Championship.

"I think we've seen it about as easy as it can get today, this morning," said Carl Pettersson, who birdied three of his first four holes and went on to sign for a six-under-par 66, good for a one-shot lead over Rory McIlroy and Gary Woodland.

Spain's Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, playing in the afternoon, also shot 67.

"Hitting balls on the range this morning, there was completely no wind," said McIlroy, who birdied his first hole, the 10th, and didn't make a bogey. "It was flat calm, and I really thought that I had to take advantage of the conditions."

Twenty-one years after he won the PGA at Crooked Stick as an alternate, John Daly headed up a large group at 68 that also included Keegan Bradley, the reigning PGA champion, who is coming off a win at the Bridgestone last week.

Playing in the same group as Bradley, Tiger Woods shot a three-under 69 and was three back to start his bid for major championship victory No. 15, and his first major title since the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

Although conditions were dead calm in the morning, the wind freshened as Bradley and Woods finished and the afternoon wave began to tee off.

"I'm so happy it started blowing, because it was so hot this morning," said Bradley, who started his round on the back nine with a birdie on 10 and an eagle on 11. "On the 14th tee was one of the hottest moments of my life."

Not that the course was a total pushover. Jim Furyk was three under but double-bogeyed the par-5 16th hole, his seventh, and shot even-par 72. Charley Hoffman shot 81, as did reigning national club pro champion Matt Dobyns. With the wind starting to blow, Phil Mickelson hit from the beach grass into more beach grass on the par-5 seventh hole, finally got out, then air-mailed the green with his fourth shot. He got up and down from the back bunker for a bogey.

Joost Luiten, a 26-year-old from the Netherlands who wore two gloves, got to eight under but bogeyed his final four holes to fall back into the large group at 68.

As predicted, the Ocean Course's soft, relatively wide fairways, combined with its unprecedented length — at 7,676 yards, it's the longest PGA course ever — made it an inviting target for big hitters like Daly, McIlroy and Woodland.

"I drove the ball the best I've driven it all year," said Woodland, who hurt his left wrist at the Masters, took a month off, and has struggled to implement swing changes under new coach Butch Harmon. "When I drive it like that, I'm playing a game that most guys can't play out here."

Woodland hit nine of 14 fairways and, with a cut 5-iron into a right-to-left wind, nearly aced the 223-yard, par-3 17th hole, tapping in for birdie. He can reach all four par-5s with irons for his second shots, and he played them in three under.

McIlroy also deployed his driver to maximum effect, using it 10 times while finding 10 of 14 fairways off the tee. He averaged 313 yards on measured holes.

"When you're hitting it in the fairway and you're hitting it long, it gives you a big advantage over a good percentage of the field," McIlroy said. "Like, for instance, I was going in with a little wedge on six — it's 480 yards — where maybe the rest of the field might be going in with something longer. It gives you an opportunity to get to some of these par-5s in two as well."

With the wind down and soft fairways and greens, about the only defense left for the Ocean Course was the heat, and that wasn't much of a defense at all.

"I probably lost a little bit of weight today, water weight," said Woods, who birdied three straight holes at the turn. "So I just have to hydrate and recover from the heat, especially after the practice session I'm going to have to put in."

Pettersson, a Swedish national who has lived in Raleigh, N.C., since he was 14, was among those whose scores were virtually unaffected by the searing heat.

"It's a nuisance," he said. "It's hot, sweaty, but it's been hot and sweaty for the last two months on Tour. I guess I'm about as used to it as you can get."

The last time Daly started this well at a PGA was when he shot an opening-round 67 at scorching hot Southern Hills in Tulsa in 2007. He went on to finish T32.

Bradley, a 26-year-old Boston Red Sox fan who grew up in Vermont, gave out Red Sox jerseys to all the former PGA champions on site — each jersey numbered with the year of the player's most recent (or only) PGA win — at a dinner earlier this week. And he quickly put his stamp on the Ocean Course, as well, hitting 10 of 14 fairways and making five birdies, an eagle, and three bogeys.

"If you hit the ball in the fairway, you can make a lot of birdies," he said.

Mickelson, who is trying to rebound after a largely forgettable summer, did not hit fairways, missing nine of 14, but he scrambled with 11 one-putts to shoot 73. He was at least still within sight of the leader and signed autographs long after his round in the fading light.

Ernie Els led the marquee group—the season’s three major winners—with an even-par 72. Bubba Watson had 73, and Webb Simpson, rusty after taking a break from the Tour—he and his wife, Dowd, recently welcomed a baby girl—shot 79.

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