Rory McIlroy is one step closer to the third PGA Championship title of his career.
McIlroy paced the field in Thursday's opening round of the 2022 edition of the major at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with a five-under 65. He is one shot clear of Will Zalatoris and Tom Hoge on the leaderboard, which can be found in full at PGATour.com.
1. Rory McIlroy, -5
T2. Will Zalatoris, -4
T2. Tom Hoge, -4
T4. Justin Thomas, -3
T4. Matt Kuchar, -3
T4. Abraham Ancer, -3
The star-studded pairing of Tiger Woods, McIlroy and Jordan Spieth was the biggest storyline entering play. While Woods and Spieth would likely prefer to forget their opening rounds, McIlroy put on a show.
He started on the back nine with a blistering pace right out of the gates with four straight birdies on Nos. 12-15. Although he gave strokes back with bogeys on Nos. 6 and 8 during his second nine, he made up for it with birdies on Nos. 2, 5 and 9.
McIlroy ended his round with a lengthy birdie putt to move ahead of Zalatoris and Hoge in a fitting exclamation mark to cap a round that also saw him take advantage of scoring opportunities with birdies on both par fives.
"It was nice to get off to that good start and sorta keep it going," he told reporters. "I feel like this course, it lets you be pretty aggressive off the tee if you want to be, so I hit quite a lot of drivers out there and took advantage of my length and finished that off with some nice iron play and some nice putting."
The 33-year-old's impressive round was a continuation of the major championship momentum he built at April's Masters when he ended with a final-round 64 to finish in second place.
It also could mean trouble for the rest of the field, as golf insider Justin Ray noted the last three times McIlroy started a major with a 66 or better he won at the 2011 U.S. Open, 2014 Open Championship and 2014 PGA Championship.
Few golfers in history know more about parlaying a quick start into a title than Woods, but he will not be adding to his 15 major championships after posting a four-over 74 on Thursday even after tallying birdies on two of his first five holes.
This is just his second official PGA Tour event since he suffered serious leg injuries in a February 2021 car crash, and he told reporters: "My leg is not feeling as good as I would like it to be. We'll start the recovery process and get after it tomorrow."
He also said of his swing: "I just can't load it. Loading hurts. Pressing off it hurts. Walking hurts. Twisting hurts."
Woods found just seven of 18 greens in regulation, which left him scrambling to save strokes throughout the round. He will have to play better just to make the cut of top 70 and ties, and Spieth may as well after shooting a two-over 72 that included three bogeys in a four-hole stretch from Nos. 15-18.
While that pair of notable names will be worried about the cut line, McIlroy's primary focus will be holding the lead with a strong group of challengers waiting closely behind.
Zalatoris' four-under 66 ended with a long birdie putt on No. 9, and Hoge's mark was a testament to his steady consistency with five birdies spread throughout the round to go with just one bogey.
Yet nobody was as good as McIlroy, who will have the opportunity to build on his lead in Friday's second round.