|-6 T Mullinax (USA), G Woodland (USA); -5 C Davis (Australia), K Kitayama (USA), A Wise (USA), W Clark (USA), K Joo-hyung (S Kor), R McIlroy (NI),|
|Others selected:-4 T Hatton (Eng), S Power (Ire); -3 S Lowry (Ire); -2 D Willett (Eng); -1 M Fitzpatrick (Eng); +2 T Fleetwood (Eng)|
Defending champion Rory McIlroy shot a five-under par 66 opening that put him one on early CJ Cup pace in South Carolina.
The Northern Irishman’s clear round of five birdies put him one behind former US Open champion Gary Woodland and fellow American Trey Mullinax.
McIlroy birdied three successive times from the fourth and produced two more on his back nine.
Victory this week could see McIlroy reclaim the world number one spot.
McIlroy will top the leaderboard for the first time since July 2020 if he triumphs and current number one Scottie Scheffler finishes worse than a two-way tie for second place.
The four-time major winner – who has held the world number spot for the last eight streaks – can also topple the Masters champion with an absolute second place if Scheffler is outside the top 35.
At the end of day one, Scheffler tied for 44th in the uncut field of 78 after hitting a par 71.
McIlroy, 33, won last year’s event at Summit Club in Las Vegas, but the 2022 event is at Congaree Golf Club and Thursday was his first round of competition at the South Carolina venue.
“I was still hesitant about which clubs to hit off the tees and the lines, but after playing it today, hopefully I’ll be a little more comfortable over the next three days,” said said McIlroy, whose turn was highlighted by him driving the 352.-yard 15th who set up his final birdie of the day.
The world number two shared third place with in-form South Korean talent Tom Kim, American trio Wyndham Clark, Aaron Wise and Kurt Kitayama as well as Australian Cam Davis.
Irishman Seamus Power was part of a field of 67 which also included England’s Tyrrell Hatton and Norwegian Viktor Hovland while another Irishman Shane Lowry was part of a large group which carded 68 rounds.
Jon Rahm and Danny Willett both completed two 69-under par, with US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick having to settle for a 70.