SHEBOYGAN, WISCONSIN // Tiger Woods emerged from the fog - in the air and perhaps in his head, too - to make the perfect start to the final major of the season yesterday. Bad visibility delayed the start of the US PGA Championship for over three hours at the Whistling Straits course in Wisconsin.
But when conditions eventually cleared, the world No 1 - a shocking joint 78th out of 80 in last week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio - birdied his first two holes. Two-under par after two was a massive improvement on 18-over par after 72 in Akron - and it instantly made him part of a seven-way tie for the lead. Only for a few seconds, though, as German Martin Kaymer, in the group ahead, followed an eagle at the long 11th with a birdie at the next.
Woods, needing a top-15 finish to have a chance of automatic selection for the US Ryder Cup team, sank a 12-foot putt on the 361-yard 10th and then holed from eight at the 618-yard 11th. Both were accompanied by a huge roar from a crowd eager to see him return to former glories after a troubled year on and off the course following damaging revelations of extra-marital affairs. England's Luke Donald also birdied the 10th and remained one-under after nine, but both compatriot Paul Casey and Ireland's Padraig Harrington - both outside qualifying positions on Europe's Ryder Cup table with three weeks to go in that race - ran up bogey sixes at the 11th.
Scot Stephen Gallacher was the first of a confident European contingent on to the spectacular course on the edge of Lake Michigan. He bogeyed the third, but came back with a birdie on the long fifth, while his fellow countryman Martin Laird bogeyed the first, but made two at the 181-yard third. Alongside Woods on two under were Stuart Appleby, Jason Day, Aberdeen-born Michael Sim and Dane Soren Kjeldsen. The length of the delay made it touch and go whether the first round would be completed before nightfall.
Ian Poulter, another morning starter, had made an important decision on his clubs. Poulter had practised with a new set of irons after his usual ones fell off a golf buggy and were dragged along a path. The faces were unaffected, but because of the scuff marks at the bottom the world No 10 gave himself the option before the event. "I'm going to go with the old ones. I don't like looking down at them so much now, but just know how they behave," he said. Woods, saving par like the good old days on the short 12th, had to wait only until the 404-yard next - his fourth of the day - for his third birdie, this time from seven feet. However, he slipped back one spot at the par four 15th.
Appleby, scorer of only the fourth 59 round in PGA Tour history two weeks ago, was three under as well thanks to a pitch to four feet at the par five 16th. Charles Howell III appeared to follow Woods lead and took advantage as Appleby and Kaymer both dropped a shot at the 15th. The American reeled off four straight birdies from the 11th, his second, to take a one shot lead. But Australian Marc Leishman immediately pegged him back as the birdies continued to fly. Leishman hit four in his first five holes, on the front nine, to join Howell on four under.
There were also a couple of more surprising names in the early front pack as Martin Laird of Scotland and Jason Day of Australia were only two shots behind the leaders. Many players will have to complete there rounds today as the weather delay caused a serious backlog.
* Press Association