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Tiger, Rory in early duel at PGA tilt

ST. LOUIS (AFP) – Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, past major winners trying to rise once more from contenders to champions, tee off side-by-side when the 100th PGA Championship starts Thursday.

Woods, eight months into a comeback from spinal fusion surgery, and McIlroy, seeking his first major win since the 2014 PGA, will be joined by defending champion Justin Thomas for the first two days over the 7,316-yard, par-70 Bellerive Country Club layout.

“You certainly get thrown at the deep end straight away in a group like that,” McIlroy said. “I guess it focuses you straight away. It’s going to be a big atmosphere out there and I’m looking forward to that.”

That trio and top-ranked Dustin Johnson are oddsmakers favorites for the year’s last major event on a rain-softened course where length will help but second shots into tight landing areas will be critical.

“It’s advantageous for the guys who hit the ball in the air and can carry it a long way. I just need to be able to do that,” Woods said.

“If you’re able to hit the ball well and put the ball in the right sections, you’ll see a bunch of birdies. If you don’t, you’ll see the field get separated pretty quickly.”

Woods, a 14-time major champion, has not won a major since the 2008 US Open and hasn’t won any event since the 2013 Bridgestone Invitational. But he fired his lowest final round in five years to take fourth in June at the PGA National and led in the British Open final round before sharing sixth at Carnoustie.

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