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Published: 20:35 | 28/7/16

Walker strolls as McIlroy struggles

Irishman nine off the pace at Baltusrol

Jimmy Walker carded six birdies and a solitary bogey to claim the lead after the first round of the USPGA Championship at Baltusrol, with Irishman Rory McIlroy nine shots adrift after carding a disappointing 74.

The American coped well with the sweltering conditions which saw officials forced to water the greens as temperatures reached the mid-90Fs and leads by one shot from former champion Martin Kaymer, Argentina's Emiliano Grillo and Englishman Ross Fisher.

They are one shot ahead of a group of four players on three-under which includes Open winner Henrik Stenson, England’s Andy Sullivan and American pair Harris English and James Hahn.

Walker, looking to become the fourth first-time winner of a major this year following Stenson, Gary Willett and Dustin Johnson in the Open, Masters and US Open respectively (a feat that hasn’t been achieved since 2011), was delighted with his form after struggling over the past sixteen months or so.

"It's just been real stale and stagnant this year. I haven't been making the 15, 18-footers you need to make to start running up the leaderboard and to have high finishes, he said.

"Winning a major would be huge but there are three days to go."

"I made a lot of really quality shots on my front nine, the back. I made some good putts and hit a close couple of times. The birdies on 15 and 16 were nice and I made a good par on 17 - I had to pitch out in the fairway and lay-up again.

"I made a good par save on four. Hit some quality shots coming in on seven, eight and nine, so that was good.

"The rough is a challenge. You can either catch a nice lie or you can get one that's a pitch out. You really wanted to stay in the fairway so you can have control of the golf ball.

"The greens were very receptive. I felt like if you were hitting from the short grass, you could pretty much do whatever you wanted with the golf ball in the green."

Meanhwile, defending champion Jason Day was three shots off the lead after returning a 68 despite having just one practice round, but playing partner McIlroy struggled to a 74 which included 35 putts and returned to the course at 6.15pm for practice under the watchful eye of coach Michael Bannon.

The final member of the marquee group, Open runner-up Phil Mickelson, recovered from four-over par after 11 holes with three late birdies to return a 71, but US Open champion Dustin Johnson struggled to a 77.

"I was excited to play and compete again and not have to have a month off for preparation," said Mickelson, who won his second major title the last time Baltusrol staged the US PGA in 2005.

"Unfortunately, I don't do well not playing the week before and you kind of saw it today. I hit terrible shots the first 11 holes.

"The game has been very easy and the first 11 holes was very hard. I played really well the last seven holes to get back in it and I'm pleased with that."

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