Rory McIlroy got his USPGA Championship debut off to a strong start at Hazeltine National as Padraig Harrington and Tiger Woods renewed their duel on the first morning of the final major of the year.
McIlroy, 20, opened with a birdie at the par-four 10th hole to get off to a flying start on a warm but overcast morning in Minnesota and he found himself atop a very early leaderboard at three under par.
Yet after back to back birdies at the par-four 14th and par-five 15th, McIlroy gave a shot back at the par-four 16th and he made the turn at two under, one shot behind new leaders Dustin Johnson and Paul Goydos of the United States, Australia’s Robert Allenby and Camilo Villegas of Colombia.
At 7,674 yards, the par-72 Hazeltine course is the longest in major championship history with three of the four par-five holes measuring more than 600 yards.
Tournament officials moved the tee up 30 yards at the par-three 13th to reduce it to 218 yards, and shortened the 518-yard par-four 12th to 501 yards but pushed tees back at the other par threes at the fourth, eighth and 17th to leave the aggregate reduction at just 26 yards.
Having gone toe-to-toe at Firestone Country Club last Sunday in the final round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Woods and Harrington were paired once more for the first two rounds alongside Rich Beem, the 2002 champion when last the event visited Hazeltine.
A triple-bogey from Harrington last Sunday had handed Woods his fifth victory of the year and the world number one, a four-time PGA champion, began the quest for his 15th major looking for a third tournament win in as many weeks.
Harrington had plenty at stake too as defending champion and the pair matched each other shot for shot, both sinking birdies at the third of the day, the 12th and again on the 642-yard, par-five 15th and after seven holes the illustrious pair were alongside McIlroy, Spain’s Alvaro Quiros and Denmark’s Soren Hansen among others.
That looked promising for Colin Montgomerie, Europe’s Ryder Cup captain for the 2010 matches at Celtic Manor in Wales.
Yesterday he had predicted a strong showing from the 32-strong European contingent, of which he was one, believing “four or five” of his potential team could secure top-10 finishes.
Montgomerie, set to tee off in the late wave of starters, saw world number three Paul Casey ruled out of that scenario after the Englishman withdrew early this morning due to a rib injury.
Casey’s spot in the 156-man field was taken by American Tim Petrovic.