PGA opens with heavy hearts after death of Aussie Lyle

St. Louis (AFP) –


Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy prepared for an early charge as the 100th PGA Championship began Thursday, many players teeing off with heavy hearts after the death of Australian golfer Jarrod Lyle.

Lyle's passing Wednesday at age 36 after a battle with leukeamia touched much of the elite field, with 98 of the world's 100 top players in the year's final major showdown at Bellerive Country Club.

"The courage shown through his battle is an inspiration to all of us. He made the world a better place. RIP mate," four-time major winner McIlroy tweeted.

Woods, a 14-time major champion, has made a strong comeback from spinal fusion surgery, briefly leading in the final round of last month's British Open. He hasn't won a major since the 2008 US Open or any title since 2013.

Joining Woods and McIlroy off the 10th tee at 8:23 a.m. (1323 GMT) will be second-ranked defending champion Justin Thomas, who comes off a victory at last week's WGC Bridgestone Invitational.

"We lost a great one today. RIP, Jarrod," Thomas tweeted. "We will all be thinking about him and his family this week."

Lyle, whose best US PGA Tour finish was a share of fourth in 2012 at Riviera, played in two major tournaments, sharing 48th at the 2008 US Open and missing the cut at the 2006 British Open.

"Incredibly sad news about Jarrod Lyle," tweeted British Open champion Francesco Molinari of Italy. "Tough times for everyone on tour losing someone so special."

Molinari was set for an afternoon start over the 7,316-yard, par-70 layout alongside this year's other two major winners, Americans Patrick Reed from the Masters and Brooks Koepka from the US Open.

"You were and always will be a fighter and will be missed by so many people. Rest In Peace Jarrod," Reed tweeted.

Lyle played in 121 PGA events from 2006 to 2016 and won two developmental Tour events. He was diagnosed with leukaemia as a youth and twice thought he had beaten cancer only to have it return last year.

"Deeply saddened to hear about the passing of my friend Jarrod Lyle," tweeted world number 10 Jason Day. "Jarrod will forever be an inspiration to us all."

Aussie Day, the 2015 PGA Championship winner, makes a morning start with five-time major winner Phil Mickelson and 2011 PGA winner Keegan Bradley.

"Such a sad day, we will all miss you so much," tweeted world number three Justin Rose while American Tony Finau tweeted, "Your legacy of toughness and kindness will live on."

England's Rose starts in the afternoon alongside Spain's Jon Rahm and three-time major winner Jordan Spieth, an American who can complete a Career Grand Slam with a victory this week.

World number one Dustin Johnson makes an afternoon start alongside fellow American Bubba Watson, a two-time Masters winner, and former Masters champion Adam Scott of Australia.

- DeChambeau's donation -

Several American players were hunting for Ryder Cup points in the final qualifying event for the first eight spots on the US squad that will defend the trophy against Europe next month in France.

Among those needing a strong showing to reach the top eight was early starter Bryson DeChambeau, who had donated his $25,000 top prize from Tuesday's Long Drive Contest to Lyle's children, daughter's Lusi and Jemma, before Lyle's death.

"Jarrod Lyle, the story, it's so sad," DeChambeau said. "What Jarrod has battled through is valiant. It's a tough battle, obviously, and not everybody wins. I believe those kids deserve some chance at a better life. They need that. So that's why I decided to do it."