TULSA, May 19, 2022 — Tiger Woods birdied the par-4 10th hole to begin today’s opening round of the 104th PGA Championship as he continues his amazing comeback from severe leg injuries.

Woods, a 15-time major champion, joined Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy in an all-star pairing off the back nine at Southern Hills.

Former world number one Woods, now ranked 818, made his emotional return from a February 2021 car crash at April’s Masters, finishing in a share of 47th as he struggled to walk 72 holes at hilly Augusta National.

After being hospitalised for weeks and unable to walk for months, Woods says he now has what it takes to win if he can handle the walk.

“I feel like I can, definitely,” Woods said. “I just have to go out there and do it.”

Woods received a huge cheer when he arrived at the 10th tee and blasted his first shot 339 yards into the fan-lined fairway, then asked a television camera crew to back off as they zeroed in on the start of his stroll.

“Mind giving me some breathing space,” Woods said

Woods blasted his second shot just outside of three feet from the hole and rolled in his birdie putt. McIlroy and Spieth began with pars.

A huge crowd lined the holes where Woods and his partners played.

“Given the crowds that will be out there, the weekend might actually feel a little like a breather,” Spieth said.

Woods said earlier he is stronger than when he played the Masters, but walking the course with rods and pins holding his right leg together remains difficult.

“It’s better than the last time I played,” Woods said. “We’ve been working hard. I have days where it’s tough and other days where we can push through it. But we keep working at it.”

Woods, 46, is chasing an 83rd career US PGA Tour title to break the all-time record he shares with Sam Snead.

He also seeks a fifth career Wanamaker Trophy to match the PGA Championship win mark shared by Walter Hagen and Jack Nicklaus.

Three-time major winner Spieth, coming off a US PGA Heritage victory last month and a runner-up finish last week in Dallas, would complete a career Grand Slam with a victory.

The 28-year-old American would join Woods, Nicklaus, Gary Player, Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan with a triumph at all four majors if he wins.

“Having won the other three, it’s an elephant in the room for me,” said Spieth.

“You feel like you kind of ‘accomplished golf’ when you win a career Grand Slam, I guess.”

Four-time major winner McIlroy seeks his first major victory since the 2014 PGA after a runner-up finish at the Masters in his own bid for a career Slam.

“I feel good about my game,” McIlroy said. “I’ve done some good work. I’ve led greens in regulation the last two tournaments I’ve played.

“You hit greens here, you’re going to give yourself birdie chances.”

Top three start late

The world’s three highest-ranked players, reigning major champions all, were paired together for an afternoon start.

Top-ranked Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, a winner in four of his past eight starts, joins world number two Jon Rahm, the 2021 US Open winner from Spain, and third-ranked Collin Morikawa, last year’s British Open champion, at 1.36pm off the first tee.

The pairing would typically grab the spotlight, but Scheffler takes it in his stride.

“Tiger’s here so nobody really remembers that I’m here, so it’s all good,” Scheffler said.

Oddsmakers expect big things from them, ranking them among the most fancied for the title.

Rahm warns that Southern Hills will offer swirling winds and tee boxes that can adjust hole lengths to create a formidable challenge.

“You can’t hide. You have to do everything well,” he said. “They can truly make it as difficult as they want.” — AFP