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Golf: Woods opens with par as PGA Championship begins

Tiger Woods began the 96th PGA Championship by rescuing a par from the rough at the 10th hole on Thursday (Aug 7) as the year's final major tournament began at Valhalla.

LOUISVILLE: Tiger Woods began the 96th PGA Championship by rescuing a par from the rough at the 10th hole on Thursday (Aug 7) as the year's final major tournament began at Valhalla. Woods, a 14-time major champion chasing the all-time record 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, had been questionable for the event with a back injury until playing a nine-hole practice round on Wednesday and declaring himself fit for the 72-hole showdown.

Starting his 72nd major tournament at the 590-yard, par-5 10th alongside fellow past PGA champions Padraig Harrington and Phil Mickelson, Woods hit his first tee shot 282 yards into the left rough, blasted out into the fairway and put his approach 21 feet from the cup. Purple-shirted Woods left his birdie putt inches short and tapped in for par.

Japan's Hideki Matsuyama owned the early lead at two-under par after a 25-foot birdie at the 12th and putting his approach inches from the cup at 13 to set up another birdie. World number one Rory McIlroy, coming off a British Open triumph in July and a World Championships win last week, joins Masters winner Bubba Watson and US Open champion Martin Kaymer of Germany in the feature afternoon threesome.

A field of 156, including a season-high 99 of the world's 100 top players seek a US$1.8 million (S$2.25 million, 1.34 million euro) top prize and the Wanamaker Trophy at the US$10 million (S$12.5 million, 7.47 million euro) event. Only missing from the elite lineup was American Dustin Johnson, who last week announced he was taking a leave of absence from the tour. A later Golf.com report said he had tested positive for cocaine.

In the field are 20 club professionals, including Americans Brian Norman, who put the opening tee shot into the first fairway, and Frank Esposito, who made the first birdie of the tournament with a 25-foot putt at the par-5 10th hole.

Woods produced the biggest drama in the run-up to the year's final Major with the uncertainty about his status in the wake of back spasms that forced him to withdraw from the final round Sunday at the WGC event in Akron, Ohio. But after a nine-hole practice round on Wednesday over the much-changed layout where he won the 2000 PGA Championship, Woods pronounced himself ready to play, saying his recent injury was unrelated to the back surgery that idled him for nearly four months. "I'm not in any pain," Woods said. "That's the good part."

Woods, who has fallen to 10th in the world rankings, struggled to his worst major showing last month at the British Open, but that did not stop a huge gallery from following his every move during his practice round or from assembling to watch him in round one. Also among those off early were Australian world number two Adam Scott, 21-year-old Masters runner-up Jordan Spieth and fellow American Rickie Fowler, who shared second at the US and British Opens.

Northern Ireland's McIlroy won his third career major title last month at the British Open in Hoylake, following his wins at the 2011 US Open and 2012 PGA Championship. Spain's Sergio Garcia, who finished second to Mcilroy at the British Open and again last week after squandering a three-stroke lead entering the final day, also was scheduled for an afternoon start alongside US Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson and his newest assistant, US veteran Steve Stricker.

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