McIlroy shares early lead at emotionally testing PGA Championship

mcilroy shares early lead at emotionally testing pga championship

Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland shared the early lead at the PGA Championship

Rory McIlroy grabbed a share of the early lead in Thursday's first round of the PGA Championship during an epic test of emotional resilience at Valhalla, where his most recent major win came 10 years ago.

Less than 48 hours after his Monday shock divorce filing from wife Erica became public, second-ranked McIlroy birdied the par-5 10th and par-4 13th holes to join a lead pack at 2-under.

McIlroy, cheered before sending his first tee shot into left rough at 10, dropped his approach six feet from the hole and sank the birdie putt.

The 35-year-old from Northern Ireland sank a birdie putt from just beyond 10 feet at 13 to join a lead group that includes Norway's Viktor Hovland, Scotsman Robert MacIntyre and Americans Xander Schauffele, Doug Ghim, Sahith Theegala and Jordan Spieth.

McIlroy, top-ranked Masters winner Scottie Scheffler and defending champion Brooks Koepka top the list of favorites to lift the Wanamaker Trophy at the 7,609-yard, par-71 layout.

The focus and concentration so often shown in shotmaking by McIlroy was set for a supreme perseverance challenge after the four-time major winner's decision to end his seven-year marriage.

Asked on the eve of the tournament about his energy and how he was doing personally, McIlroy replied: "I'm ready to play this week."

He'll need to be if he is going to end a decade-long major win drought that has seen 20 top-10 finishes in majors without a triumph since his Valhalla victory -- including seven of his past nine major starts.

McIlroy's game enters on form after triumphs in his past two events, a PGA Tour pairs event last month with Irishman Shane Lowry and last Sunday's fightback victory at the PGA Wells Fargo Championship.

It is not the first time McIlroy has sought golf success after personal turmoil.

In 2014, he ended his engagement to Danish tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, then won the European Tour event at Wentworth four days later. McIlroy went on to win the British Open and PGA at Valhalla as well as a WGC tournament over the next three months.

Five-time major winner Koepka, among 16 LIV Golf players in the field of 156, began on the back nine and birdied the 12th hole.

Fellow American Spieth, a three-time major winner who would complete a career Grand Slam with a victory at Valhalla, birdied 10 and 12 to match the leaders.

Third-ranked Schauffele, the reigning Olympic champion seeking his first major title, birdied the par-3 11th from inside three feet and sank a 13-foot birdie putt at the par-4 13th to share the early lead.

Tiger Woods, a 15-time major champion and 2000 PGA Championship winner at Valhalla, missed the green and made bogey at 11 but answered with a 15-foot par putt at 12 and an 18-foot birdie putt at 13.

Sweden's Ludvig Aberg, runner-up at the Masters last month in his major debut, opened with four pars on the back nine.

- Scheffler starts late -

Scheffler, a winner in four of his past five starts, was set for an afternoon start off the first tee alongside two other 2023 major champions from the United States -- US Open winner Wyndham Clark and British Open winner Brian Harman.

Other afternoon starters include two-time major winner Jon Rahm of Spain, who jumped from the PGA to LIV last December, and six-time major winner Phil Mickelson.

A record crowd of more than 200,000 spectators is expected over four days.

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