- Associated Press - Thursday, August 11, 2011

JOHNS CREEK, GA. (AP) - Steve Stricker has never won one of golf’s biggest championships, and the Americans are mired in their longest major drought of the modern era.

Maybe Stricker will take care of both in one week.

He surely won’t have to worry about Tiger Woods, who returned to the major scene with a major thud.

The 44-year-old Stricker got off to a brilliant start at the PGA Championship on Thursday, posting a 5-under 30 on the tough back nine after teeing off at the 10th.

Amazingly, the Wisconsin native made birdies at both the 15th _ the longest par-3 on the course _ and the 18th, a lengthy par-4 that has water hugging the left side of the fairway and guarding the front of the green.

Stricker made the turn and quickly added another birdie at the first, taking his score to 6 under. He was three strokes ahead of Jerry Kelly and Alexander Noren.

Stricker has finished in the top 10 at all four majors, but never better than a runner-up showing at the 1998 PGA Championship. Overall, he’s 0-for-52 in the top events.

The Americans sure need a boost. They haven’t won a major since Phil Mickelson triumphed at the 2010 Masters, coming up short at six in a row. During that span, Northern Ireland has captured three championships, South Africa two and Germany one.

Stricker is the highest-ranked American in the world rankings, a spot that used to be controlled by Woods.

Not anymore.

Fully recovered from a leg injury that caused him to miss both the U.S. Open and the British Open, Woods got off to a strong start, even grabbing a share of the lead early in the round at Atlanta Athletic Club.

Then Bad Tiger showed up again.

Woods wiped out three early birdies _ and then some _ with three double bogeys, his ball landing in water and sand as much as on grass. It was the sort of erratic play that has kept him winless in the majors for more than three years.

Like Stricker, Woods started on the back side. Their results were much different.

Woods birdied his first hole by driving into the fairway _ no guarantee these days _ and rolling in an 18-foot putt. He put his name at the top of the board with two more birdies at the 12th and the 14th, the latter resulting from a massive drive, then an approach that spun back within 3 feet of the flag.

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