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Brilliant comeback sees McIlroy star at Valhalla

ESPN staff
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Rory McIlroy enjoyed a brilliant birdie run on his back nine © Getty Images
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Rory McIlroy staged an impressive comeback to shoot a 66 in the opening round of the US PGA Championship today which leaves him just one shot behind clubhouse leaders Ryan Palmer, Lee Westwood and Kevin Chappell on 6-under.

The former US PGA winner and current Open champion was the strong favourite heading into the competition at Valhalla and the 25 year old started well, shooting 32 on the front nine, before unravelling and carding a double bogey on the par-5 10th.

Westwood charges as Tiger whimpers

  • Tiger Woods laboured to a round of 74 at the US PGA Championship as Lee Westwood and Kevin Chappell made impressive rounds of 65 among the early starters at Valhalla.
  • Woods, a four-time winner of the event, was visibly annoyed with the way he played as he picked up four bogeys, counteracted by just one birdie.
  • Click here to read more

With 280-yards to the green, McIlroy hit a fairway wood out of bounds and then went on to miss the green with his dropped ball. He could not stem the bleeding on the next hole and picked up another shot but he hit back with four birdies in a row on 11, 12, 13 and 14 thanks to a series of impressive approach shots.

His birdie putt on 15 went around the hole and the dismay on the Northern Irishman's face highlighted how confident he felt at that point.

A superb drive on the 18th was followed by an approach right over the pin to give a good chance of an eagle; however, the growl returned as his putt trickled inches wide of the cup, leaving him to tap in for birdie.

McIlroy told Sky Sports: "Things like 10 happen, you hit bad shots every now and then and I was really annoyed with myself to bogey the next hole as well. If anything I was still slightly annoyed with myself three-putting after making the double on 10 but my response after that was really good and it shows mentally where I'm at with my game."

"It doesn't really get much better than that. I'm driving the ball fantastically well, I'm really confident with it and the fairways this week are a little more generous than they were last week at Firestone so I feel I can step up and hit it just as hard and feel I can hit the fairways. If I can keep stats like that up through the next few days I'll be happy."

McIlroy is also joined by Chris Wood at 5-under after the latter capped a good day for British golf with a bogeyless round of 66.

Starting at the 10th, Wood made two birdies in his opening nine holes. Like McIlroy, he shone on the back nine and picked up shots at the second, fifth and seventh holes to move within one off the leaders.

Palmer went out in 31, sinking five birdies, and his front nine was also impressive shooting 34, carding only one bogey on the eighth hole. It was an enthralling round from the 37 year old who has three PGA Tour wins to his name, the most recent in 2010 at the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Palmer said: "I felt great on the range warming up and got off to a good start with the first two birdies at 10 and 11."

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He added: "I was hoping I could sneak another one in there and maybe birdie nine…it's a little disappointing with the bogey on eight but overall I can't be disappointed at all - pretty happy.

"I'm going to come out tomorrow like I did today and we'll see what happens with the weather. Hopefully it will hold up in the morning and then hit about 12.30 when I'm finishing. I've heard some good rain is coming in so hopefully we can keep the momentum going."

Henrik Stenson is looking for his first major title and he made an impressive start with only one bogey on the card, finishing on 5-under.

Shane Lowry is having a breakthrough year and finished on 68, just three shots back from the leaders. YE Yang, who won the competition in 2009, was in the hunt before picking up six shots in four consecutive holes on the back nine.

Local-boy JB Holmes appeased the crowd on his way to 3-under and he utilised his knowledge of the course as he sunk a number of tricky putts, including one for birdie at the last hole.

Former world No.1 Luke Donald may be one of the shorter hitters on tour but he used his guile to navigate the course and move 4-under at the turn.

However, his game took a turn for the worse on his return to the clubhouse as a series of errors halted his progress. A bogey at the 10th was cancelled out by two birdies, but it all came apart at the 15th.

A poor drive found the rough before his second found the greenside creek having clattered off a tree. That led to double bogey and was made worse with another dropped shot at the last. The Briton remains 1-under having finished with a 70. Long-hitter Bubba Watson is well-placed on 1-under alongside playing partner Martin Kaymer and Spaniard Sergio Garcia, while Justin Rose capped an uplifting day for English golf as he also shot a 1-under round of 70.

US Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson missed a birdie putt at 18 to secure an even-par round of 71 and will start Friday at 1-over.

Defending champion Jason Dufner has withdrawn with a neck injury while Matt Kuchar is also out with a back injury.

Ryan Palmer showed no signs of pressure in his first round © Getty Images
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