|American Steve Stricker salutes the gallery after shooting a remarkable round in Atlanta [GALLO/GETTY]
Steve Stricker matched the lowest 18-hole score in major golf history, firing a seven-under par 63 for a two-shot lead as Tiger Woods stumbled to a 77 on Thursday at the 93rd U.S. PGA Championship.
The 44-year-old American, seeking his first major title, had a chance to become the first player to record a 62 in a major but missed a birdie putt on the ninth hole, his last of the round.
"I realised it was for 62. I didn't realise it was for history," Stricker said.
"I hit a good putt. It just didn't go in."
American Jerry Kelly was second on 65 with countryman Scott Verplank third on 63 with two other US players, Ryan Palmer and Shaun Micheel, on the course at three-under early in their rounds.
No American has won a major title since Phil Mickelson at the 2010 Masters, a record US drought of six majors. If no US player hoists the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday, 2011 will be the first year since 1994 with no US major winner.
Stricker opened with three birdies in a row and added others at the 260-yard par-3 15th and par-4 18th, dominating over the four-hole stretch most players declared the toughest at Atlanta Athletic Club.
"I realised it was for 62. I didn't realise it was for history"
Leader Steve Stricker
He added birdies at the first and par-5 fifth and nearly added another to make history, instead firing the 25th score of 63 in majors history, the first at a PGA since Woods in 2007 in the second round of his victory at Southern Hills.
"I really had no expectations coming into the round," Stricker said.
"I didn't make many birdies in practice. I really didn't know what to expect but I got it going. The trick today was to get it in the fairway."
In the clubhouse on 68, five strokes adrift, were Italian teen star Matteo Manassero, Zimbabwe's Brendon de Jonge, Australian John Senden and Americans Davis Love, Bill Haas.
"Conservatively aggressive," de Jonge said of his day in the first group off.
"I drove it in a lot of fairways so that made the course a lot easier. We had the best of conditions."
Woods' bogey run
Former World No. 1 and 14-time major winner Woods, in the second week of a comeback after a three-month injury layoff, fired his worst opening round in a major, matching the sixth-worst round of his career.
It was his worst round ever at a US-based major and matched the second-worst of his career at any major event, the only worse major round his epic 10-over 81 at the 2002 British Open.
Woods, in his first major event after a three-month layoff, briefly grabbed a share of the lead after starting on the back nine and making birdies on three of his first five holes.
But the 14-time major champion stumbled with a double bogey at 15, a bogey at 16, a double bogey at 18, back-to-back bogeys to start the front side, a bogey on four, birdie on five, double bogey on six and bogey to end on nine.
Former world number one Woods suffered left leg injuries in April at the Masters, aggravated them at the Players Championship in May before pulling out after nine holes and had not played a competitive round since until last week.
Woods, chasing the all-time record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, has not won any title since his infamous sex scandal erupted in November of 2009.
| Woods has struggled to overcome injuries and his own demons since returning to golf [GETTY]
Woods, who has slid to 30th in the world rankings, has not won a major title since the 2008 US Open. The 13 majors without a victory is the longest such gap of Woods' career.
Woods is playing with boyhood pal Bryon Bell as his caddie after firing Steve Williams last month. Williams is now the bagman for Scott, who opened with a 69.
"Under-par around here is a good start," Scott said.
"I was in position to have a really good score and dropped a couple coming in. You don't have to play perfect golf to have a good score."
Struggling worse than Woods was Japan's Ryo Ishikawa, the teen prodigy playing alongside Scott. Ishikawa had a triple bogey, five double bogeys and two bogeys without a birdie to stand 15-over after 15 holes.
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, the US Open winner, was on the course with countryman Darren Clarke, who won last month's British Open, and South African Charl Schwartzel, who won the Masters in April, in the feature group.
World No. 1 Luke Donald of England was in a pack on 70 while four-time major winner Phil Mickelson fired a 71.