McIlroy leads with a little help from his fans

Rory McIlroy kicked off golf’s final major of the year with a superb five under par 67 at Kiawah Island today – helped rather than hindered by a spectator this time.

The thunderstorms of earlier in the week gave way to dry and boiling hot conditions for the start of the USPGA Championship and players took advantage on the course made famous by the “War on the Shore” Ryder Cup in 1991.

In last month’s Open at Royal Lytham McIlroy’s hopes of a second major title nosedived after he rebounded off a teenager’s head out of bounds late on the first day.

On this occasion he hit a lady on the hip after badly pulling his tee shot to the dangerous short 17th – his eighth – but it came back into a nice lie in the sand only 25 feet from the flag.

From there the 23-year-old Northern Irishman, already three under for the day, splashed out to six feet, saved his par and brought a cheer from the gallery by running back to give the fan the ball.

“It’s becoming a habit hitting people at majors, so I will try not to do that again,” he said after picking up more shots on the second and sixth.

“I think that’s my first bogey-free round in a while and it was a great way to start.

“I’m pretty comfortable on the course and only played nine holes on Monday and nine on Tuesday – I didn’t feel I needed to play more.

“I’m expecting this to be the best day of the week (weather-wise), but it’s hot and you just try to stay hydrated.”

McIlroy’s round put him in a share of second place one behind clubhouse leader Carl Pettersson, the Swede who became an American citizen earlier this year.

Dutchman Joost Luiten, who after an eagle and six birdies was clear of the field in his first ever major in the United States, bogeyed his last four holes - echoes of Adam Scott at The Open last month – and had to settle for a 68.

Tiger Woods was another early starter and kept himself in the hunt with a 69, while Ian Poulter – keen to boost his chances of qualifying automatically for the Ryder Cup as well, of course, as landing a first major – returned a 70.

Woods said: “Anything in the 60s is going to be a good start in a major championship. I’m right there.

“The wind kicked up a little bit and it changed things quite a bit and it’s actually changed direction too.

“I probably lost a little bit of weight today – water weight – so just have to hydrate and recover.

Two late birdies helped Martin Laird to a one under 71, but Lee Westwood finished poorly and signed for a 75 – another disappointing display following his 81 during the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last week.

Last year’s Open champion Darren Clarke had a 73 that included just about everything from an eagle at the seventh to double bogey seven on the 11th.

Paul Casey, with only one cut made since dislocating his shoulder snowboarding last Christmas, struggled again and handed in a 79.

World number one Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington and Justin Rose were among the later starters hoping the wind would not get up too much.

Pettersson is ineligible for the Ryder Cup – for both teams.

He is not a member of the European Tour and therefore has not collected points since the race started last August and to play for America had to become a citizen by the time he was 18.

“I don’t think I could fake that one,” joked the chubby 34-year-old.

Harrington, winner in 2008 and needing something really special to get back into the Ryder Cup reckoning, eagled the second, but bogeyed the next.

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