Rory McIlroy faltered on his return to Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course as Brooks Koepka was among those to set the early pace at the US PGA Championship.
McIlroy won the last time the event was staged at the South Carolina venue in 2012 but signed for a three-over 75.
Former world number one Koepka shares the lead at three under par alongside Keegan Bradley and Viktor Hovland.
Scotland’s Martin Laird held top spot heading to the 17th tee but carded successive bogeys and sits one back.
World number one Dustin Johnson, career Grand Slam-chasing Jordan Spieth and England’s Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose are among the late starters on a breezy opening day.
Koepka said before the tournament he was up to six months away from full fitness following surgery on 16 March to deal with a knee cap dislocation and ligament damage.
That appeared to ring true as the four-time major champion made a double-bogey start, but he immediately pulled one of those shots back and further birdies either side of a bogey saw the American hit the turn at level par.
The 31-year-old, who won this event in 2018 and 2019, added three birdies on his back nine to join Hovland in the clubhouse lead.
Another former champion Bradley claimed his only major at the PGA Championship a decade ago and saw just one blemish on a card that included four birdies as he signed for a 69.
Norway’s Hovland is the youngest of the leading pack and the only one of the trio without a major to his name, but the 23-year-old cancelled out an opening bogey with a birdie on the second and he added three more in a terrific round.
Defending champion Collin Morikawa looked set to make it a four-way tie at the top but bogeyed his final hole.
British contingent in contention
Scotland’s Laird strung together four successive birdies to lead at four under par with two to play, but back-to-back bogeys saw the 38-year-old head into the clubhouse at two under.
Paul Casey was also piecing together a promising round as he moved to three under but the Englishman was pegged back by a bogey-bogey finish to end the day one under par.
“I’d have taken one under at the start of the day because this is one of the most difficult golf courses I have ever played. It has my respect,” said Casey.
“They are one of the best [putting] surfaces we have experienced in major championship golf, they are incredibly true. The ball does not deviate, they barely leave a mark.”
Compatriot Tyrrell Hatton birdied his final hole, the ninth, to also finish at one under after a round that included four birdies and three bogeys.
McIlroy battles to stay in hunt
Northern Ireland’s McIlroy started with a bogey at the 10th after leaking his opening drive into water but followed that with successive birdies, and was unlucky to see an eagle putt lip out. He hit the turn at level par after another dropped shot on the 608-yard par-five 16th.
McIlroy won here the last time Kiawah Island hosted the event but said he did not feel that would give him an advantage nine years on.
He did arrive in South Carolina as the favourite, however, after ending a 19-month winless streak with victory at Quail Hollow two weeks ago and having seemingly corrected his swing troubles after recruiting coach Pete Cowen.
Back-to-back bogeys followed after the turn and another at five, his 14th, saw the 32-year-old slide to three over par before sinking a 12-foot birdie putt on the next.
But there was further trouble for McIlroy as his drive on the par-five sixth found a tuft of long grass in one of the wasteland areas to the left and resulted in another dropped shot as he closed for a 75.
Big-hitting US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, who said he planned to “unleash the beast” in a bid to tame the longest course in major championship history, stuttered to the turn with four successive bogeys after edging to two under through three holes.
The world number five traded a birdie and a bogey after the turn but made two birdies on his way in to post a level-par 72 and sit three strokes off the pace.