Impressive Woods quick to suggest he may no longer be whistling in the dark

Tiger Woods emerged from the fog – in the air and perhaps in his head too – to give his battered confidence a much-needed boost as the final major of the season began yesterday.

Bad visibility delayed the start of the US PGA Championship for over three hours at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.

But when conditions eventually cleared beside Lake Michigan the world No 1 – a shocking joint 78th out of 80 in last week's world championship – grabbed three quick birdies.

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Three under par after four holes was obviously a massive improvement on 18 over par after 72 in Akron, but a bogey on the 518-yard par four 15th did follow and by turning in 34 he was two behind fellow American Charles Howell.

Joint fourth place, though, was a far better position than Padraig Harrington and Ian Poulter found themselves in.

Former winner Harrington managed only 39 for the back nine, taking six at the long 11th, going onto the rocks for a double bogey on the 223-yard 17th and then dropping another shot at the next.

Poulter, who does not have the Irishman's concerns about not making the Ryder Cup side, ran up a triple bogey seven at the difficult 15th.

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There was better news of fellow Englishmen David Horsey, Luke Donald and Paul Casey and Scot Martin Laird.

Horsey, who won his first European Tour title in Germany in June, birdied two of his first five holes to stand two under with Laird – and Woods, of course – while Donald and Casey were one under with eight to go.

Woods, needing a top-15 finish to have a chance of automatic selection for America's Ryder Cup team, sank a 12-foot putt on the 361-yard 10th and then holed from eight at the 618-yard next.

Both were accompanied by a huge roar from a crowd eager to see him return to former glories after a troubled year on and off the course following his sex scandal.

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A wayward drive led to his only bogey on the inward half, but there was so much to encourage him after last week's horror show.

Scot Stephen Gallacher was the first European onto the spectacular course and he was level par after 13, while Welshman Rhys Davies mixed two birdies with two bogeys in his first four holes and was level par with Rotherham's Danny Willett and Brian Davis.

The length of the delay made it touch-and-go whether the first round would be completed before nightfall.

Howell, turning in a fine 32, was joined by Jason Day when he had his fourth birdie of the day on the long fifth – his 14th – but the 22-year-old Australian then failed to get up and down from off the green at the 221-yard seventh.

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It put him in a group on three under which included France's Gregory Bourdy, while Laird, Horsey and Italian brothers Edoardo and Francesco Molinari – both gunning for the Ryder Cup – were two under.

Woods slipped from that mark, however, as he found two bunkers down the 593-yard second and took six.

Harrington was still three over with six to go, but Poulter had come back with birdies on the 16th and 18th to be one over.

Woods did well to par the long fifth after finding the lake and taking a penalty drop. He remained three off the lead, held by left-hander Bubba Watson rather than Howell.

Howell bogeyed the short third, while Watson turned in 35 and then birdied the 12th, 13th and 16th.

Laird moved only one back on the 16th, only to bogey the next.