Rory McIlroy upstages Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth to take lead at US PGA Championship

The Northern Irishman fired an excellent 5-under 65 to post the early clubhouse target at Southern Hills and easily come out on top in his all-star three-ball.

History says getting off to a fast start at Southern Hills - scene of this week's US PGA Championship - is an absolute must.

As Matt Cooper noted in his pre-tournament piece, in the 10 events the Tulsa course has staged previously, the eventual winner was leading or co-leading after 18 holes in eight of them.

This is quite a common trend in all Majors and eight of the last 10 PGA Championship winners had started with a round in the 60s to position themselves high on the first-round leaderboard.

When Rory McIlroy was paired with Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth for Thursday's opening round, two lines of thought battled with each other.

The pessimistic take was that Rory's recent reputation for poor starts in Majors wouldn't be helped by all the palaver and hullabaloo surrounding Tiger.

The optimists believed having 90% of the Southern Hills crowd following Rory would kick him immediately into competition mode, get the juices flowing and perhaps help him emulate something similar to the brilliant closing 64 which helped him finish runner-up in last month's Masters.

Thursday was one for the optimists.

McIlroy put his playing partners in the shade with a superb 5-under 65 to post the early clubhouse lead and record his lowest first-round score in a Major since the 2011 US Open.

That championship at Congressional certainly turned out well; he went on to win it by eight shots.

By contrast, his playing partners struggled. Spieth had to settle for a 2-over 72 while Tiger literally limped to a 4-over 74.

In other words, Rory outshone his fellow multiple-Major winners by seven and nine shots respectively.

But should McIlroy backers be getting carried away?

Well, let's just say Rory's round one problem had gone on for some time.

Rory McIlroy

Just under 80% of Major winners since 2011 have opened with a round in the 60s.

Indeed, just under 40% started with a 67 or better.

But in 27 first rounds at Majors since he won his last one (the 2014 US PGA), the Northern Irishman had shot in the 60s just five times and fired a 67 or better just once.

The exciting thing for McIlroy is that special things tend to happen when he does get it right on day one.

Look at his round one scores when he won his four previous Majors:

65 - 2011 US Open

67 - 2012 US PGA Championship

66 - 2014 Open Championship

66 - 2014 US PGA Championship

Each time, McIlroy used fast starts as a slingshot to glory.

He's in ideal position to do that once more.

McIlroy defies previous putter problems

So was it just slow starts that were hampering Rory in the Majors?

It was certainly a big factor but, breaking down the stats, there was another conclusion: his putting wasn't good enough.

Despite finishing second at this year's Masters, Rory lost strokes to the field on the Augusta greens.

In addition, he'd recorded negative SG: Putting figures in two of the last three US Opens and five of the last seven PGA Championships.

But after signing for his opening 66 at Southern Hills, McIlroy's stats showed he had gained over three strokes on the greens (rank: 3) and averaged 1.417 Putts Per GIR (rank: 12).

"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 later.

It's been a while since we've heard Rory make it all sound so easy and straightforward after day one of a Major championship.

READ MORE: History tells us that there's a Southern Hills secret route to success

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