Rory McIlroy pleased with 'great start' at PGA Championship, leads by 1 stroke after 1st round

TULSA, Okla. -- Rory McIlroy was more interested in his own history in the majors than the peculiar heritage at Southern Hills on Thursday at the PGA Championship.

Southern Hills has proven to be favorable to front-runners. As for McIlroy, he has failed to break par in the opening round 15 times in the 27 majors he has played since winning his last one.

So there was reason for that bounce in his step when he finished with an 18-foot birdie putt for a 5-under 65, giving him a one-shot lead at end of a warm and windy day.

He was asked -- yes or no -- if it was the start he wanted.

"Yes or no? No, I'd rather shoot 74 and try to make the cut tomorrow," he said. "Yeah, look, it was a great start. I've been carrying some good form. I think when your game is feeling like that, it's just a matter of going out there and really sticking to your game plan, executing as well as you possibly can, and just sort of staying in your own little world."

McIlroy had a one-shot lead over Pebble Beach winner Tom Hoge and Will Zalatoris, who finished his 66 with a 30-foot birdie, his fourth putt of 25 feet or longer.

Justin Thomas, trying to shake off a sinus infection and allergies, made one of only four birdies on the 18th hole for a 67 in the afternoon, when greens had more foot traffic and scoring was more difficult. Also at 67 were Matt Kuchar and Abraham Ancer.

The start was just what McIlroy needed as he tries to end nearly eight years without a major, many of those chances doomed by bad starts. This was his lowest start to par in a major since a 5-under 66 when he won the PGA at Valhalla in 2014, the last of his four majors.

In seven previous majors at Southern Hills, the winner had at least a share of the lead after the first round and every champion was atop the leaderboard from 36 holes until it over.

That bodes well for McIlroy, and so does his game. He chose to attack with the driver, leaving him wedges to par 4s and and 3-iron into a pair of par 5s that measure 628 yards and 665 yards.

"I feel like this course, it lets you be pretty aggressive off the tee if you want to be, so I hit quite a lot of drivers out there and took advantage of my length and finished that off with some nice iron play and some nice putting," he said.

Masters champion Scottie Scheffler had to save par from a tee shot in the water on the 18th hole for a 71, his first time over par in two months.

"I didn't shoot myself out of it," he said.

Jordan Spieth, who joined Tiger Woods and McIlroy in a group that drew a loud and thoroughly entertained crowd, opened with a 72 in his bid to capture the only major keeping him from the career Grand Slam.

The difference between McIlroy and Woods, who finished at 4-over 74, was clear early in the round. On the 461-yard 12th hole, Woods hit iron off the tee that left him 178 yards. McIlroy pounded driver with a slight fade with the prevailing breeze, leaving him 86 yards. He hit lob wedge to a foot for birdie.

That was the start of four straight birdies for McIlroy, which included a 6-iron to 25 feet for his longest birdie of the day at the par-3 14th.

McIlroy made birdie on the two par 5s from greenside bunkers. He hit another big drive on the tough par-4 second, leaving 7-iron to about 10 feet.

"Making birdie there is a real bonus," he said.

The warmth -- not oven heat like the 2007 PGA in August -- and mild wind led to ideal scoring, though Southern Hills still had enough defense.

Twenty-six players from a field of 156 broke par, only nine of them in the afternoon. McIlroy will have to deal with the late start on Friday.

"I don't think a major champion here has ever been double digits under par, so you know the scores aren't going to go much further," Hoge said. "It's a grind out here."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.