(CNN) -- Carl Pettersson of Sweden set the early pace in the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island but a gaggle of golf's elite were firmly in contention after the opening round of the final major of the season.
Pettersson carded six birdies in a flawless six-under 66 in South Carolina but 2011 U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland was only one back -- tied with Gary Woodland and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano of Spain.
Defending champion Keegan Bradley -- a winner last week on the PGA Tour -- was in a group at four under, including veteran John Daly, while Tiger Woods carded six birdies on the way to a three-under 69.
"Anything in the 60s is going to be a good start in a major championship. I'm right there," Woods told gathered reporters.
"The wind kicked up a little bit and it changed things quite a bit and it's actually changed direction too," he added.
McIlroy has failed to mount a lasting challenge in the majors since his remarkable win at Congressional last June, but was also happy with his efforts after not dropping a shot on the Ocean Course.
"It is a great way to start a tournament," he told gathered reporters. "I thought I had to take advantage of the conditions. I am very happy."
Unheralded Dutchman Joost Luiten had looked set to lead the way as he reached eight under, but finishing at the ninth, he spoiled his round with a run of four straight bogeys to close with a 68.
Australia's Adam Scott -- a man who knows all about dropping four shots at the end of a round -- also opened with a 68, while Open champion Ernie Els compiled a steady par round of 72.
The 34-year-old Petterson, who is based in the United States, took dual citizenship earlier this year and in April achieved his fifth victory on the PGA Tour when he won the Heritage tournament.
Like the other leaders, he took advantage of drying conditions on a course hit by thunderstorms earlier this week.
World number one Luke Donald of England failed to capitalize as he struggled to a two-over par 74, one better than compatriot Lee Westwood who finished with a disappointing 75.