Tiger Woods, in his first major event after a three-month layoff, birdied three of his first five holes to grab a share of the early lead in Thursday’s opening round of the PGA Championship.
Woods, who began off the 10th tee under ideal conditions at Atlanta Athletic Club, opened with a birdie, added another at the par -5 12th and birdied the par -4 14th to reach three-under par after five holes.
That put Woods atop the leaderboard with England’s Ross Fisher, a back-nine starter who birdied four of his first five holes before a bogey at 16, and Americans Bill Haas, Bubba Watson and Steve Stricker.
Only Woods among the early co-leaders has ever won a major title.
Former world number one Woods suffered left leg injuries in April at the Masters, aggravated them at the Players Championship in May before pulling out after nine holes and had not played a competitive round since until last week.
Woods shared 37th at last week’s World Golf Championships event with a one-over 281 total and was last in driving accuracy, finding only 39.3% of fairways.
Woods, a 14-time major champion chasing the all-time record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, has not won any title since his infamous sex scandal erupted in November of 2009.
But his sizzling start among the Georgia pines electrified fans who were excited to see glimpses of the form that once dominated the sport like few others.
“I’ve been away from the game for a while but I’m starting to get the feel of hitting shots and how far the ball is going and just getting more and more target awareness that comes from just playing in tournament golf,” Woods said.
Woods, who has slid to 30th in the world rankings, has not won a major title since the 2008 US Open. The 13 majors without a victory is the longest such gap of Woods’ career.
Woods is playing with boyhood pal Bryon Bell as his caddie after firing Steve Williams last month. Williams is now the bagman for Australian Adam Scott, who was one-under through eight holes.
A growing concern for organisers was the damage to the 14th and 17th greens caused on Wednesday night when mower brushes stuck to grass at the edges of those greens, requiring workers to address damage to the turf in those areas.
Even after groundkeepers repaired the areas, officials declared they would be treated as ground under repair for the lie of the ball, a major blemish on the event after years of renovating the course in order to stage it.
Atlanta Athletic Club also hosted the PGA Championship in 2001, when American David Toms fired a 15-under 265, the lowest 72-hole score in major championship history.
The feature pairing of the year’s reigning major champions will tee off in the afternoon.
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, the US Open winner, will start at 1:45 with countryman Darren Clarke, who won last month’s British Open, and South African Charl Schwartzel, who won the Masters in April.
“This course really suits my game,” McIlroy said. “I can’t wait to get going.”
McIlroy shared third in both his prior PGA Championship starts.
World number two Lee Westwood of England, Masters and US Open runner-up Jason Day of Australia and American Matt Kuchar will be in the group behind the major champions.
No American has won a major since Phil Mickelson at last year’s Masters, a record six-major drought. The past 12 majors have been won by 12 different players with first-time major champions having taken the past six and nine of the last 10. — AFP