By Mark Lamport-Stokes
KIAWAH ISLAND, South Carolina (Reuters) - Finally pain-free after a lingering wrist injury that forced him to withdraw from this year's Masters, long-hitting Gary Woodland showed the benefits of his new swing with a fine 67 at the Ocean Course on Thursday.
That overhaul yielded instant reward and left him with a broad grin on his face after he hit nine of 14 fairways as he carded a five-under-par round for a share of the early lead in the opening round of the PGA Championship.
"I drove the ball great," American Woodland told reporters after mixing an eagle at the 11th with four birdies and a bogey. "Out here there's a lot of holes where I can take advantage of the driver and hit my irons into all the par-fives.
"The main deal is I'm healthy now. The British Open was the first tournament I played this year where I didn't have pain. Now (coach) Butch (Harmon) and I can work. It's just a process making changes, but when you're not able to do it, it's tough.
"The last couple of weeks Butch and I, we've worked as hard as I've probably worked in my life, and it's nice to be able to do that being healthy."
Woodland, who won his maiden PGA Tour title at last year's Transitions Championship, injured his left wrist during the third round of the Masters at Augusta National in April.
"I had a ruptured cyst that just kind of built up, and it ruptured on the eighth hole at Augusta, obviously caused me to withdraw there," the 28-year-old said.
"The shot at Augusta on eight when it ruptured, it took me to my knees. That's tough for me. The pain got to the point where I couldn't hit golf balls.
"And when you're making (swing) changes and going through a process that I was going through, it was tough mentally more than anything."
Woodland endured a frustrating run over the next two months, missing three cuts in his next five PGA Tour starts.
"We did everything we could to get the inflammation out," he said. "We just couldn't do it. Finally, we got injections in the wrist the week before the U.S. Open, and it still took some time to get it out.
"Finally we did that right before the British Open, and I've been pain-free since."
Advised by Harmon to change his swing in a bid to become more consistent in the majors, Woodland was delighted with the results on the ultra-long 7,676-yard Ocean Course at Kiawah Island on Thursday.
"Today it paid off," said the American, whose best major finish was a tie for 12th at last year's PGA Championship. "I drove the ball as best I've driven it all year, and when I drive it like that I'm playing a game that most guys can't play out here."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)
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