Rory McIlroy vowed not to get ahead of himself as he headed into the second round of the US PGA Championship in pole position to end his major drought.
Since winning the last of his four majors in the 2014 US PGA, McIlroy had been a combined 35-over par in the first round of golf’s four biggest tournaments, his most recent effort being a one-over-par 73 in April’s Masters.
But it was a completely different story on a sweltering opening day at Southern Hills as McIlroy carded seven birdies and two bogeys in an opening 65 to record his lowest round in a major since the 2011 US Open.
McIlroy went on to win his first major title by eight shots at Congressional, and said on Thursday: “It is a great start but I’m not getting ahead of myself. I did pretty much everything you need to do out there and I’m going to have to keep doing the same the next three days.”
McIlroy held a one-shot lead over Will Zalatoris and Tom Hoge, while playing partners Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth were facing battles to make the cut after rounds of 74 and 72 respectively.
Woods was two-under par for his first five holes but struggled from then on and admitted his right leg – which he feared could have to be amputated following last year’s car crash – was not “feeling as good as I would like”.
Back in action for the first time since his sensational return to competition at April's Masters, just 14 months after a car crash nearly claimed his right leg, Woods wasted no time in firing up the crowd with a birdie on his opening hole.
The 15-time major winner would turn up the buzz with a second birdie at the 14th but it was mostly all downhill from there as he piled up seven bogeys, including two to close out his round, to sit nine off the lead and work to do on Friday just to make the cut.
The pained expression on his face as he walked off the course was in stark contrast to the joyful look he had five weeks earlier at Augusta National when the 46-year-old stunned the golf world by firing an opening one-under-par 71 on his return to competition.
"It was a frustrating day," said Woods, adding that his leg did not feel as good as he thought it would.
"Loading hurts, pressing off it hurts, and walking hurts, and twisting hurts.
"It's just golf."
It was also a day of frustration for Spieth as his bid to complete the career Grand Slam of golf's four majors got off to an unimpressive start with a scrappy 72.
The marquee group of McIlroy, Woods and Spieth, who own a combined 22 major titles, was like a giant magnet pulling in the early spectators who lined almost every hole from tee to green.
The afternoon wave had its high-profile trio featuring the world's top three ranked players in Masters champion Scottie Scheffler (No 1), US Open champion Jon Rahm (2) and British Open winner Collin Morikawa (3).
But it also had the tougher conditions. As the wind and temperatures picked up, none of the heavy-hitters made an impact with Scheffler returning a 71, Morikawa 72 and Rahm 73.