Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy walked a different walk to open the PGA Championship

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy do not walk the way they once did, when each was at the height of his powers.

Understandably, Woods is taking tentative steps these days. When he leaves the tee, he often holds a club in his right hand, which he gently swings like a crutch as he walks toward the fairway. He's not relying on it for support -- not quite -- but it looks like he's using it for comfort. A safety blanket in case he takes an embarrassing step. Chances are it will go on like this forever, with the pain rising and diminishing to a level that only he can understand.

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McIlroy is no longer as bubbly or strutting as he once was. That's the way an older, wiser golfer walks, but he's also seen his disappointment, especially in the majors.

They're all different -- one because of injury, one because of confidence.

However, if you pay close attention to the first round of the PGA Championship on Thursday, you can catch a glimpse of McIlroy's old pillar. When he birdied the 15th hole -- his fourth straight in the morning -- it came up again. With his chest leading the way, McIlroy strolled to the 16th tee with light feet like a professional heading to the ring. For a moment, like in 2014, McIlroy was the alpha king of the sport,

Woods tried to suppress a grimace. Late in his rounds, every swing and step feels either tentative or strenuous.

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The return of McIlroy's strut wasn't permanent. He throttled it down to a saunter after he hit his drive into a fairway bunker on the 16th hole (he saved par). A pair of bogies on his back nine diminished it further. But to see flashes of it at Southern Hills during McIlroy's 5-under par 65 was a beautiful sight. It was his lowest opening round in a major since 2011 at Congressional, and maybe more evidence that his final round at the Masters last month was something of a golf exorcism.

For the first time in years, McIlroy won't have to climb out of a hole to contend. He didn't spend weeks obsessing about the nuances of Southern Hills in the lead-up to the championship -- he'd never even played the course until he arrived this week -- he just watched a few flyover videos as prep and decided to trust his natural talent.

Their dedication to this industry has endured a lot of injuries behind the exercise, but they are able to continue for the dream in their hearts, which we admire, even after the game, It was hard to watch Woods limp home and wonder if he should mull withdrawing, keep rehabbing, focus on The Open at St. Andrews, but he seemed to have no such plans.

"Lots of treatment, lots of ice baths, and try and get the inflammation out and try and get ready for [Friday's second round]," Woods said.

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