Round 1 Recap: Gary Woodland leads PGA Championship, Rickie Fowler one back and Tiger battles back to level

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Gary Woodland claimed the first round lead at the PGA Championship, putting together a string of five birdies in seven holes on the back nine to get to six-under for the day

Gary Woodland opened with a six-under 64 on the opening day of the PGA Championship at Bellerive to lead Rickie Fowler by one shot as 47 players lie under par after round 1. 

The world No. 44 struggled to get anything going at the start of his round, pulling his drive in to the left rough on the first and dropping a shot on the first hole before posting six straight pars. On the 5th, Woodland needed to hole a 15-footer for par to stay six shots behind Rickie Fowler. He got it. 

From there, things began to get better. At the par-five 8th Woodland managed to get a birdie on his card, adding a second on the 9th to get in to red figures as he approached his back nine. 

And that momentum continued. The 34-hole year rolled in a monster 44-foot putt on the par-four 11th to get to two-under before adding his fourth birdie of the day at the next from 23 feet. 

With further gains at the 14th and 16th Woodland caught up to Fowler's lead, passing him at the par-five 17th with his final birdie of the day.

It's the closest Woodland has played to home since being on the PGA Tour, and with plenty of friends and family out there supporting him, the World No.44 conceeded he probably was pressing a bit too hard at the start. 

"I probably pressed a little bit too much early," he said. "I've been hitting the golf ball beautifully coming into this week, close to home, I have a million friends and family out here, which is pretty cool, but so I was probably off pressing a little bit and I kind of settled in there really on 5 and outside of that I hit the golf ball beautifully.

And for Woodland, the key was on the greens. He led the field by more than a stroke with SG: Putting stats of 4.364, which has been a big part of the game he has been working on the past few weeks.

 "I made a big par putt there on 5, and it was the first time I've really seen a putt go in, in a while, which was nice. I made a lot of changes the last couple of weeks I seek the help of Phil Kenyon on Saturday of the Open Championship.

"I was hitting it so good and just got nothing out of it. He showed me some things that he saw that I was doing wrong in my stroke and it really took the last week and a half to, a lot of time on the putting green, and I've started to feel pretty comfortable this week and it was nice to see results today.

“Now when I get out of position I have the short game to give myself a chance. And to see putts go in was very, very cool.”

What happened elsewhere?

Rickie Fowler grabbed the early lead on Thursday with six birdies and a bogey during the opening round as his hunt for a maiden major title continues. 

He ended a string of four-pars to start off his round with an approach shot to five feet on the par-four 14th (he started on the 10th), and although giving away a shot at the 16th instantly responded with a birdie on the par-five 17th.

A blemish-free back-nine included four more birdies at the 1st, 3rd, 7th and 8th holes to post the early clubhouse lead. 

"I actually feel like I got off to a pretty good start," Fowler said. "I just didn't really make much in the first few holes and I hit it close on 14, missed a short one on 15 for another birdie. Made a bogey. And kind of got things back going, I got a wedge in there on 17 to make birdie. So it was nice to make the turn. I did have a lip out on 18 as well. So I had enough looks to know that I could kind of make up for that bogey that we did make on 16. Nice to play just a solid kind of clean stress free front nine.

World No.1 Dustin Johnson looked like he was going to be a big challenger early on, catching up to Rickie by the 13th hole after six birdies and a bogey. However, DJ handed back a shot immediately at the 14th, and dropped another on the par-five 17th after finding water.

"I felt like the day was pretty solid," DJ said. "Hit a lot of putts. Made a few, missed a few. Didn't drive it quite as well as I'd like to. We had a bunch of -- hit a few fairways, but I didn't hit as many as I needed to if I wanted to shoot a low score.

"Coming home, that was really the key. Missed the fairway on 13, made bogey. I had a good look for par. And then same on 17, I hit it in the creek. But I'd still given myself a really good chance at making a par there. It was just poor tee shots coming home.

"I'm right there. Still got a lot of golf to go. I'll try to come out tomorrow morning and get after it."

Tiger Woods started on the back nine and got off to the worst possible start, going bogey- double-bogey to find himself three over after two. He battled his game for the majority of the front nine, making a birdie at the third, dropping a shot at the par-three 16th and making a birdie at his ninth hole of the day to make the turn in two-over.

His back nine was a better story, carding two birdies on the 1st and 8th holes (his 11th and 17th) to get back to level par and six shots behind Woodland. For Tiger, it was about keeping himself in the tournament.  

"It kept me in the golf tournament," Woods said. "I could have easily gone the other way, being 3 over through two. A lot of things could happen. Not a lot of them were positive, but I hung in there and turned it around."

Woods' playing partners Justin Thomas (-1) and Rory McIlroy (E) ended with a 69 and 70 respectively, while Jason Day, Justin Rose, Kevin Kisner and Ian Poulter are among the players alongside Dustin Johnson on three-under-par.