Rory McIlroy played down injury fears after Thursday’s opening round of the 100th PGA Championship, in which the four-time major champion wore an anti-inflammatory patch on his right forearm.
It was a tough day for the Northern Ireland star, who joined 14-time major winner Tiger Woods and second-ranked defending champion Justin Thomas in a supergroup at Bellerive Country Club.
McIlroy and Woods each scrambled and grinded to level par 70s while Thomas shot 69 as thousands of spectators followed them around the 7,316-yard layout.
“It was pretty cool to be out there 8:30 in the morning and have an atmosphere like that,” McIlroy said. “J.T. and I were saying it’s going to get a little crazy tomorrow afternoon. So we’re looking forward to that.”
McIlroy wore a green patch on his forearm after starting to feel muscle tightness at last week’s WGC event.
“Funny enough, it hurts the most with chipping because I sort of hold the angle a little bit,” McIlroy said. “The whole forearm has been tight.
“I hit a lot of balls last week at Firestone working on a few things, and it’s just a little inflamed and a little tight, but it’s fine.”
McIlroy hasn’t won a major title since the 2014 PGA and Woods hasn’t won one since the 2008 US Open or any title since 2013. But Thomas won last week and threatens to join Woods as the only back-to-back PGA winners in stroke-play.
“These two guys have been basically at the top of the world for the last four or five years now consistently,” Woods said. “I don’t get a chance to play with them very often.
“I play with J.T. at home in practice rounds, but I haven’t played with Rory in a very long time. It was fun to get out there and compete.”
The pairing is something of passing a baton to the next generation for Woods, who recalled Jack Nicklaus playing in the last PGA Championship of Gene Sarazen and Woods himself playing in the last PGA of Nicklaus at Valhalla when Thomas was a schoolboy in the clubhouse.
“It’s interesting what this game of golf can do, how we can basically last for so many different generations,” Woods said. “It’s pretty neat.”
McIlroy likes the spotlight as well.
“It’s always nice to be a part of these groups,” McIlroy said. “It’s something that I have sort of got used to, and that’s a nice position to be in.
“The cool thing about golf is Tiger is playing with us. To see the generations overlap in golf is pretty cool.”
Thomas said as fun as the group was, each player was able to focus on his own game.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to where I’ve played with him enough now that, I don’t want to say, get wrapped up in it.
“The first couple times I maybe played a little bit more attention to what he was doing, but now this is a PGA Championship, and I’m trying to play the best that I can. So I’m focus on what I’m doing.”
Woods switched shirts in the mid-day heat, always carrying extras.
“I sweat a lot and I lose a bunch of weight,” Woods said. “No matter what I eat, no matter what I drink, I just can’t maintain weight. So this heat is one of the issues that I have.”