Bubba Watson and Francesco Molinari set early PGA pace
FIRST ROUND LEADERBOARD: -4 B Watson (US), F Molinari (Ita), M Kuchar (US)*, E Els (SA)*, N Watney (US)* -3 J Day (Aus), R Moore (US), C Howell III (US), G Fernandez-Castano (Sp)*, D Clarke (NIre)*, S Khan (Eng)* Selected others:-2 M Laird (Sco), S Lowry (Ire)*, -1 T Woods (US), R McIlroy (NIre)*, P Mickelson (US)*, +3 P Harrington (Ire), +6 S Garcia (Sp) * denotes players yet to complete their first round
Francesco Molinari played the last five holes in three under
Bubba Watson and Francesco Molinari shared the clubhouse lead after day one of the USPGA Championship.
They were joined at four under by Ernie Els, Matt Kuchar and Nick Watney who were left out on the course with holes to play when bad light curtailed play.
Play had begun more than three hours late because of early fog.
Meanwhile, Tiger Woods was menacingly positioned three shots off the lead after a 71 while Darren Clarke led the UK challenge on three under.
Clarke will resume his first round at Whistling Straits, Wisconsin, on the 14th after narrowly missing a birdie putt on the 404-yard 13th which would have seen him join the five players at four under.
Fellow Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy, playing in the group behind Clarke, found himself three over after four holes.
But he produced some exhilarating golf late in the day to get back to one under after 13, only for the hooter that signalled the suspension in play to bring a halt to the rounds of dozens of players still left on the undulating fairways bordering Lake Michigan.
Clarke, returning to the venue where he led in 2003 after a course record 65, shared the honour of being best UK golfer on Thursday with Simon Khan.
Englishman Khan, most famous for winning Europe's PGA Championship at Wentworth in May, just had time to rattle in his birdie putt at the 16th, his seventh hole, before facing the prospect of playing 29 holes on Friday.
Watney, off the radar for much of the day, produced an eagle at the 11th at about the same time to join the group on four under and make it a five-way tie at the top.
Italy's Molinari, the sole European in that quintet, produced a brilliant finish with three birdies in his last five holes.
With both the US Open and Open Championship this year having been won by long shots from the European Tour, Molinari does not face an impossible mission to be the third in a row to do it in a major.
Woods looms large after a round of 71 from the world number one
And he said afterwards: "Tiger is going to get back to his standards, and Phil (Mickelson) is going to win more majors. You just need to play really well and try to grab the occasion when you have it."
With so much rain on Wednesday and in the week before the tournament, the course that looks like a links played more like an inland PGA Tour course, with soft conditions.
It was suited perfectly for Watson, one of the biggest hitters in golf. Of all his birdies, none showed off his power quite like 587-yard fifth hole, the first on the back nine, with the wind at this back.
Ignoring the bunkers and water to the right, Watson hammered his drive so far - 445 yards by his calculations - that he had only a lob wedge for his second shot and an easy two-putt birdie.
"It makes it a little easier, I guess, when you do that," said Watson, whose first PGA Tour victory came in June.
The American has been through some tough times at home. His father is battling cancer and his wife has came through a health scare last winter.
Watson added: "Any golf tournament I have a chance to win, that's a major. I don't change the way I do anything. I still hit driver as much as I can, and hopefully chip and get up-and-down and make putts."
I was very confident going out, but was a little bit too aggressive
For many observers, the big story of the day was the return to form of Woods.
Joint 78th out of 80 in Akron last week - and 18 over par in the process - Woods found himself well clear of some big names such as Ireland's three-time major winner Padraig Harrington (75) and Spain's out-of-sorts Sergio Garcia (78).
Woods birdied three of his first four holes for a brief share of the lead early on and, though unable to keep up that fine form, a closing birdie gave him some momentum for Friday.
Harrington, who looks likely to require one of Colin Montgomerie's three wild cards to get into the Ryder Cup, said: "I was very confident going out but was a little bit too aggressive."
And Sergio Garcia appears highly unlikely to be involved at Celtic Manor after a 78 which included several angry swipes at a bunker as his frustration boiled over.
The Spaniard plans to start a two-month break from the game after the tournament, barring a miraculous recovery that might spark a Ryder Cup rethink.
One behind the leaders in the clubhouse are Australian Jason Day and American duo Charles Howell III and Ryan Moore after three-under-par 69s.
Spain's Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano is on the same mark with two to play along with Khan and 41-year-old Clarke, who had a hat-trick of birdies from the ninth - the last of them after an expert chip-and-run to two feet.
Scotland's Martin Laird is one further back and compatriot Stephen Gallacher shot 71, while Paul Casey, Ian Poulter and Luke Donald handed in 72s. Casey chipped in twice but both were for pars, while Poulter recovered from a triple-bogey seven on the 15th, his sixth.
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