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Tale of 2 stars: McIlroy keeps climbing at PGA Championship; Woods heading in wrong direction

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The divide between golf's two biggest names just keeps growing.

There's Rory McIlroy, shooting another round in the 60s and looking very much like the man to beat at the PGA Championship.

Then there's Tiger Woods, spraying shots all over Valhalla and now most concerned with making it to the weekend.

Clearly, they are two players heading in very opposite directions.

"I'm really happy with everything," said McIlroy, who opened with a 5-under 66 on Thursday despite one bad swing that led to a double bogey. "I've got a good thing going right now."

Woods can't get anything going.

Just four days after withdrawing at Firestone because of back pain, he shot a 3-over 74 that included only one birdie — and he had to hole out from the fairway to do that.

"It wasn't very good," Woods said.

He faced a daunting nine-shot deficit heading to the second round. Lee Westwood, Ryan Palmer and Kevin Chappell all shot 65 on a day when plenty of players went low, taking advantage of a course that was soft and gentle.

Coming off wins at the British Open and at Firestone, McIlroy likely would've had the lead all to himself if not for his second shot on the par-5 10th hole. He hooked it over a fence and out-of-bounds, leading to a 7. Still shaken, he made a three-putt bogey on the next hole. Then, just like that, he bounced back with four straight birdies to get right back into the mix.

"Whenever you are confident and you have some momentum on your side, it's easier to do what I did," he said.

It was his 11th straight round under par, and his third straight round of 66.

Westwood followed up a season-best 63 in the final round at Firestone by matching his best score in a major championship. He made nine birdies, helping offset a double bogey of his own.

"I've played better rounds of golf, but I was really pleased," he said. "I hit a lot of quality iron shots, and it felt like 65 was a fair enough score for the way I played. I got a couple of bad breaks out there, but I rolled a couple of putts in that you probably wouldn't expect to hole."

Here are five other things to watch for in the second round of the PGA Championship:

CAN TIGER MAKE THE CUT? In only his 11th competitive round since back surgery, Woods was tied for 109th and in danger of missing the cut in a major for only the fourth time as a professional. The top 70 advance to the weekend, so Woods has some work to do. Also in danger: Keegan Bradley (74), Thomas Bjorn (75), Darren Clarke (79), Matteo Manassero (80) and Angel Cabrera (82).

RYDER CUP WATCH: The PGA is the final event for the Americans to qualify for the Ryder Cup. The biggest move is coming from Europe. Westwood would have to win to move into the top nine in the standings. Even if he doesn't, he's at least sending a strong reminder to captain Paul McGinley that his game is rounding into shape. Ian Poulter delivered a 68 to bolster his bid, and Luke Donald didn't hurt himself with a 70. The Americans? Jason Dufner (No. 8) withdrew, and now has to wait to see if two players can pass him. Zach Johnson (No. 9) opened with a 70, Phil Mickelson (No. 10) had a 69. None of the next five players behind Mickelson broke 70. The biggest disappointment was Bradley, who made four bogeys on the back nine.

FOWLER IN THE MIX: Rickie Fowler was a runner-up at the U.S. Open and the British Open, and he is the first player since Woods in 2005 to finish in the top five at the first three majors of the year. Looks like the 25-year-old Fowler will be a contender again after opening with a 69, which included five birdies in a stretch of eight holes.

CLUB PROS: None of the 20 club professionals in the field made much of an impact, but a couple of them were in decent position to at least play 72 holes. Steve Schneiter of Sandy, Utah, opened with a 72, while Ryan Helminen of Menasha, Wisconsin, managed a 73. Six of the club pros failed to break 80.

EYES ON THE SKIES: With forecasters predicting a 50 per cent chance of thunderstorms over the next three days, weather could become a factor. Rain would make Valhalla's green more receptive to approach shots, but rob players on distance on the fairways. Winds between 10-15 mph are expected for Friday, which could also cut into the margin for error.

___

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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