By NOAH TRISTER
2012-08-10 12:42 AM
McIlroy trailed leaders Ken Duke and Carl Pettersson by a stroke. Tiger Woods started on No. 10 and finished an up-and-down back nine at 1 under. Woods, trying for his 15th major championship and first since 2008, had three birdies and two bogeys through nine holes.
McIlroy, the 2011 U.S. Open champion, is trying to break an unusual pattern in which the last 16 majors have been won by 16 different players. He tied for 40th at this year's Masters, missed the cut at the U.S. Open and tied for 60th at the British Open.
On a course softened by rain earlier in the week, Duke birdied five of the first 10 holes, and Pettersson birdied four of the first seven to catch Duke at 4 under.
More thunderstorms were possible later Thursday and throughout the tournament. But skies were mostly clear when the first groups teed off, and a number of players were off to strong starts.
Defending champion Keegan Bradley, playing in a group with Woods, began in impressive fashion with a birdie and an eagle on his first two holes at the Ocean Course, but he fell back to 1 under.
Bradley made a 25-foot putt for eagle on the par-5 11th, while Woods had to scramble for par after a wayward drive. Woods bounced back with a birdie on No. 12.
Woods then bogeyed Nos. 13 and 14 before a birdie at No. 15. He looked visibly frustrated when his tee shot missed the green to the left on the par-3 17th, but he saved par and then birdied No. 18 to move back in the right direction
Bradley rallied to beat Jason Dufner in a playoff at this tournament last year, and he's coming off a victory last weekend at Firestone.
McIlroy looked like golf's next big star after his U.S. Open win at Congressional last year, but expectations were tamer for him when he arrived at Kiawah Island. He finished tied for fifth at Firestone, perhaps a sign his game was coming around.
McIlroy birdied Nos. 10, 14 and 16 on Thursday and avoided any slips early on.
John Daly, the 1991 champion, was one of several players at 2 under.