LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Maybe Tiger Woods should have stayed at home.
Looking much like a guy who could barely bend over last weekend, Woods sprayed shots all over Valhalla and faced a daunting deficit at the PGA Championship before heavy favorite Rory McIlroy even teed off Thursday.
“That wasn’t very good,” said Woods, who made only one birdie — and had to hole out from the fairway to do that — on the way to a 3-over 74. “A lot of bad shots.”
One landed in a creek. Another sent the gallery scrambling. Yet another rolled into a fenced-off area where fans can use cellphones, a good 30 yards right of the fairway.
Too bad Woods couldn’t call for help.
“I didn’t play as well as I wanted to. I didn’t get a putt to the hole,” he said. “That’s not a good combo.”
Lee Westwood, shooting his best score ever at the PGA Championship, was joined at 65 by Ryan Palmer and Kevin Chappell, leaving Woods nine shots off the lead. Jim Furyk and Edoardo Molinari were one stroke back.
Coming off wins at the British Open and Firestone, McIlroy made an afternoon charge after stumbling at the 10th, where he knocked his second shot over a fence and took double bogey. The 25-year-old ripped off four straight birdies starting at No. 12 to reach 4 under.
Woods’ main objective Friday will be making the cut, though he insisted he still has a chance to capture his 15th major title.
“I just don’t see, on this golf course, guys going super low here,” he said, apparently not having seen the scoreboard. “I’ve got to get to under par by the end of tomorrow. ... If I can get under par for two rounds, that’s going to be right in the ballgame.”
Woods didn’t arrive at Valhalla until Wednesday, having been in Florida undergoing treatment for a back injury that forced him to withdraw at Firestone on Sunday. He struggled to pick up his tee and change his shoes, but insisted that he was fit by the time he got to Kentucky.
“It’s a little bit stiff,” he said of his back, “but that’s about it.”
Still, Woods was playing just his 11th competitive round since undergoing back surgery March 31. The rustiness showed as he grappled with his swing and never figured out the speed of the greens.
Woods had to sit out the first two majors of the year and posted his worst 72-hole finish in a major at the British Open.
Looks like more of the same at the PGA.
“My swing was dialed in on the range,” Woods said. “Unfortunately, I just didn’t carry it to the golf course.”
Westwood carried over the momentum from a closing 63 at Firestone, his best round of the year. The 41-year-old Englishman made nine birdies — helping offset a double bogey — and eclipsed his best round in 17 PGA appearances, a 66 on the first day at Oak Hill in 2013.
“The golf course was all there in front of me. I just play it as I see it,” said Westwood, who’s had numerous close calls but never won a major championship. “Last week, I felt like I turned a corner.”
Chappell, a 28-year-old Californian in his fourth year on the PGA Tour, turned in a bogey-free round. The final major of the year has produced some unlikely champions — remember Shaun Micheel? — and Chappell hopes to be the latest.
“I can’t complain about being in the lead of any golf tournament,” said Chappell, whose only professional win came on the Web.com Tour in 2010. “I just look forward to keeping it rolling.”
Palmer birdied five of the nine holes on the back side, which is where he started his round. He said the greens were more inviting than he expected.
“I was surprised how soft they were,” he said. “It was a pretty easy, relaxing nine for me.”
Furyk is off to another strong start in a tournament he nearly won in 2013. He took a lead to the final day at Oak Hill, only to lose to Jason Dufner by two strokes.
Dufner’s title defense lasted only 10 holes. Plagued by a sore neck, he withdrew after a triple-bogey left his score at 8 over, probably ending his Ryder Cup hopes as well. He came in ranked No. 8 in the standings and hoping to somehow play well enough to stay in one of the nine qualifying spots.
“I tried to do what I could to be able to compete some and give it a go,” Dufner said, “but it is just pointless.”
Phil Mickelson, mired in his longest winless streak since 2003, was paired with Woods for one of the rare times at a major. Lefty was 1 over midway through his round, struggling just like his playing partner, but fought back on the second nine for a 69.
Woods needs a similar turnaround Friday.