Tulsa, Akla. – Tiger Woods said Rory McIlroy played golf that he was unfamiliar with on Thursday in the PGA Championship.

McIlroy looked free and easy and saw only opportunity in the Southern Hills. He blew up his driver through the trees and in the fairway, setting up some of his seven birds that led him to 5 to 65 and an early lead in one shot.

Woods chose his seats and was never very crunchy on his right foot, he said, feeling worse than at the Masters last month. He collapsed in the middle of his round and at the end, finishing with two whips for 74 and his worst PGA start since 2015.

It was just what McIlroy needed when he was trying to finish almost eight years without serious, many of those chances doomed to bad starts. It was his lowest start from 6 to 66 when he won the PGA in Valhalla in 2014, the last of four majors.

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“I think if your game feels that way, it’s just a matter of going out and really sticking to your game plan, perform as best you can and just stay in your little world,” McIlroy said.

“I feel like this course allows you to be pretty aggressive outside of the tee if you want to be, so I ran into quite a few drivers and took advantage of its length and finished it with a nice iron game and a few good put.”

Will Zalataris and Pebble Beach winner Tom Hodge opened each of the 66, with Matt Kuchar and Abraham Anser trailing by another shot.

McIlroy and Woods joined the Jordan Spit band, which lacks just that major to complete a Grand Slam career, and he arrived in Tulsa with his game in good shape. But a series of missed chances for the bird was followed by a series of missed doubles, and Spit never recovered. He had a late birdie, and he saved on the last hole at number 9 for 72.

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Masters champion Scotty Scheffler was among those who played in the afternoon as the heat index jumped to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32.2 degrees Celsius).

The difference between McIlroy and Woods was obvious at the start of the round. On the 12th hole 461 yards Woods beat off the iron from the tee, leaving him 178 yards. McIlroy hit the driver with a slight fading from the prevailing wind, leaving him 86 yards.

He hit a wedge in the leg for the birdie.

It was the start of four birds in a row for McIlroy, which included 6-iron to 25 feet for his longest bird of the day on par-3 14th.

McIlroy made a birdie on two pairs of 5 from the Greenside bunkers, both times hitting a 3-iron on the 628-yard 13th and 665-yard fifth. He made another great drive at a hard pair of 4 seconds, leaving the 7-iron at about 10 feet. It felt like a bonus to him.

“You go out there and hit the driver a lot, and if you have a hot week, you have a hot week, and you’re upstairs,” Woods said. “The game is just different. Now it’s much more aggressive and I know it. But I played in my places. If I hit the ball hard in those two holes and put the ball in the fairway, I would be fine.”

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He was talking about № 4, where he put iron in the rough, and McIlroy crashed into a 327-yard drive up the hill and into the wind, which left him a tipping wedge on the green (he missed an 8-foot kick); and the ninth hole when Woods ’tee hit the tree and left him a 4-iron hit on the green.

More troubling was his leg. Woods said he had good and bad days due to a severe leg injury in his car crash in February 2021, and it didn’t look like much. No less of a concern on Friday was nine throws behind McIlroy and will probably have to fight to make the cut.

The heat – not the heat in the oven, as in the August 2007 PGA – and light winds led to the perfect score, although Southern Hills still had enough protection.

Only 17 of the 78 players from the morning wave made their way into the pair.

“I don’t think the big champion here has ever been a two-figure smaller, so you know the results won’t go much further,” Hoge said. “It’s very hard here. That’s rough here, it’s hard to control the golf ball around these greens because they can run away so fast. You just try to keep things simple.”

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Another part of Southern Hills history with seven previous majors: the five champions had at least a share of the 18-hole lead.

Xander Schaufele was in the group at age 68, while Tony Finn was among those at age 69.

John Daly was trying to revive some memories at age 56 and with a beard longer than any rough in the Southern Hills. He opened from 67 in 2007 and was 2 under 10 holes until he disappeared at the end with four scarecrows for the last five holes for 72.

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