Woodland shoots 64 to seize the lead

Woodland shoots 64 to seize the lead

Gary Woodland of the United States in action in the first round of the PGA Championships on Thursday. AFP

Gary Woodland, who has never cracked the top-10 in 27 major starts, fired a six-under-par 64 to grab a one-stroke lead over fellow American Rickie Fowler after the opening round of the 100th PGA Championship.

On a day when Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy ground out level par, unlikely Woodland -- who snapped a five-year PGA victory drought by winning in February at Phoenix -- unleashed the best putting round of his career at Bellerive Country Club.

"When I see putts go in, that just gets me going," Woodland said. "It's really starting to click. I thought I was putting well. It was nice to see them go in."

World number 44 Woodland, whose best major finishes have been shares of 12th at the 2011 PGA and 2016 British Open, sank seven birdie putts in 10 holes to pass Fowler, who matched the best major round of his career with a 65.

Ninth-ranked Fowler, twice a top-five finisher in every major, is without a win to show for it, having finished second at the Masters in April.

Woodland, 34, opened with a bogey but closed the front nine with back-to-back birdies then sank a 44-foot birdie putt at the par-4 11th and added 23-foot birdie putts at 12 and the par-3 16th.

At the par-5 17th, Woodland dropped his approach three feet from the cup and tapped in for a birdie to seize the lead, then closed with a par.

Woods battled back all day to overcome a bogey-double bogey start.

"It kept me in the tournament," Woods said. "I could have easily gone the other way, but I hung in there and turned it around."

The 42-year-old American battled back with birdie putts from four feet at 18, nine feet at the first and eight feet at the par-5 eighth.

Four-time major champion McIlroy found a bunker at 10 and made bogey, then sank birdie putts at 11, 13, but made bogey at 18 and parred in from there.

South African Brandon Stone, who won July's Scottish Open, shot 66 to share third with US two-time major winner Zach Johnson.

Woods and McIlroy played in a feature group alongside second-ranked defending champion Justin Thomas, who shot 69.

Thomas, who won last week's WGC event, could join Woods as the only men since 1937 to win consecutive PGAs.

"Definitely a lot more positives to take the negatives," Thomas said. "I'm in a good position for Thursday."

Leading scores (US unless stated): 64: Gary Woodland; 65: Rickie Fowler; 66: Zach Johnson, Brandon Stone (South Africa); 67: Stewart Cink, Austin Cook, Jason Day (Australia), Brian Gay, Dustin Johnson, Kevin Kisner, Pat Perez, Thomas Pieters (Belgium), Ian Poulter (England), Justin Rose (England), Ollie Schniederjans; 68: Patrick Cantlay, Ross Fisher (England), Ryan Fox (New Zealand), Branden Grace (South Africa), Billy Horschel, Yuta Ikeda (Japan), Chris Kirk, Jason Kokrak, Mikko Korhonen (Finland), Marc Leishman (Australia), Hideki Matsuyama (Japan), Francesco Molinari (Italy), Joaquin Niemann (Chile), Andrew Putnam, Jon Rahm (Spain), Webb Simpson, Kyle Stanley.


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