The problems continued to mount for US Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson in the early stages of the US PGA Championship on Thursday, even though Tiger Woods was fit enough to take part.
Just days after withdrawing from the final round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational with a back injury, Woods declared himself pain free after nine holes of practice on Wednesday and teed off at 8:35am local time alongside Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington.
But fellow American Matt Kuchar was not so fortunate, the world number six pulling out after suffering back spasms as he warmed up on the range. Dustin Johnson has already declared himself unavailable for Watson’s team to deal with “personal challenges”, while defending US PGA champion Jason Dufner is struggling with two bulging discs in his neck.
Kuchar, who has already sealed his place on the Ryder Cup team for Gleneagles, was replaced in the draw by first reserve John Huh, who teed off at 9:05am alongside major champions Louis Oosthuizen and Justin Rose.
English duo Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, both currently outside the automatic Ryder Cup qualifying places, were part of a six-strong group sharing the early lead on two under par, with Harrington one under, Mickelson level and Woods one over par.
Mickelson’s opening drive on the par-five 10th was so far left of the fairway that he feared it had gone out of bounds and hit a provisional ball, but the left-hander found it up against a fence and was able to eventually scramble a par.
Woods narrowly missed from 20 feet there for birdie but failed to get up and down from just off the green on the 11th and had to save par from 20 yards short of the 12th after badly mis-hitting his approach.
Mickelson had also dropped a shot on the 11th despite a typical recovery shot from way below the level of the green, but the five-time major winner and Harrington both birdied the 12th.
Woods slammed his club into the ground after hitting his tee shot into the crowd on the par-three 14th, but bounced back from a bogey there by chipping in on the 16th for his first birdie of the day.
At one over par he was four off the lead shared by five players including Westwood, who had followed a bogey on the 15th with birdies on the 17th and 18th to reach the turn in 33.
Poulter remained two under after eight holes with former Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie just a shot further back after following eight straight pars with a birdie on the 18th.