On a soggy day at Valhalla, Rory McIlroy put himself in a familiar position: leading the PGA Championship.
For Tiger Woods, this is also becoming the norm.
Another major disappointment.
McIlroy, the overwhelming favorite from Northern Ireland, started on the back nine after a 50-minute rain delay Friday, made a couple of early birdies, then claimed the outright lead for the first time when he rolled in a 30-foot eagle putt at the 18th hole.
McIlroy picked up two more birdies in his final three holes for a 4-under 67, sending him to the clubhouse with a 2-stroke lead over Ryan Palmer.
Some of the other top contenders — including Lee Westwood and Kevin Chappell, who were tied with Palmer for the lead after the first round — were playing in the afternoon.
Woods also went off late, in 109th place and more concerned about making the cut than getting into contention after opening with a 74.
As he approached the turn, things only got worse.
Woods lipped out a 3-foot birdie attempt at the third, missing a chance to gain some momentum. He followed with a bogey at No. 4, after driving into a fairway bunker, and took a double bogey at the sixth when he drove far left of the fairway and three-putted from 18 feet. Still reeling from that debacle, he yanked his tee shot at the par-5 seventh into a muddy bog, could only pitch up to the fairway, pulled the next shot behind the green, failed to reach the short grass with his chip, and made another bogey.
At that point, he was 4 over for the day, 7 over for the tournament and seemed to have little chance of making the cut. It would be only the fourth time he has failed to make the weekend at a major in his professional career.
McIlroy, on the other hand, is at the top of his game. He arrived at Valhalla having won his last two tournaments. He captured the British Open at Royal Liverpool with a wire-to-wire performance, and rallied for a victory at Firestone last weekend.
Midway through the final major of the year, he is once again the guy everyone is chasing.
“I’m feeling good about my game. I’m confident. I’m hitting the ball well for the most part,” McIlroy said. “I’m really in control of my game and my emotions. I need to do that over the weekend as well.”
He dropped a shot with a bogey at the 12th, but birdied two of the next three holes. He seized the outright lead for the first time with the long putt at No. 18 and nearly made another eagle at the par-5 seventh. He stuck a shot from 243 yards to 8 feet, but the putt stayed right of the cup.
McIlroy grimaced and rolled back his head.
He closed with another birdie at the ninth, finishing off his round by curling in a 16-footer that left him at 9-under 133 overall.
Palmer shot 70, staying firmly in the mix at the only major championship that eluded another guy who shared the same name — Arnold Palmer.
“I’m glad to shoot under par,” he said. “That’s all I could ask for today. We’ll go hang out at the house and see where we stand at the end of the day.”
McIlroy is going for his fourth major title at age 25, having already won the PGA Championship at Kiawah in 2012.
Steve Stricker — a 47-year-old, part-time player who was picked as an assistant U.S. Ryder Cup captain this week — showed he’s still got plenty of game. He made four birdies on his first nine holes, giving him a share of the lead until McIlroy claimed it for himself.
His 68 left him 4 shots off the lead on what was shaping up to be a long day.
Also at 5 under were Graham DeLaet (68) and Henrik Stenson (71).
Jason Day surged into contention, playing his first eight holes at 5 under. He was just two strokes off the lead.
A steady rain forced officials to suspend the round after just 20 minutes because of too much water on the putting surfaces and fairways. Work crews already were using squeegees on the greens when another burst of showers hit Valhalla.
Play was halted as Palmer was playing the first hole. He hung out in the tower with some volunteers, snapping pictures of the water.
“I wasn’t quite sure we should have teed off, to be honest with you,” he said. “You could barely see the fairway.”
Adding to the difficulty of a soggy course, players had to contend with mud.
McIlroy enjoys soft conditions. That was the case at Firestone last week, and when he won his first major at rain-softened Congressional in the 2011 U.S. Open with a record score of 16-under 268.
Looks like more of the same at damp Valhalla.