PGA: 'Quality iron shots' propel Westwood to share of the lead at Valhalla

Lee Westwood, of England, shook hands with his caddie after firing a 6-under par 65 first round at the PGA Championship at Valhalla in Louisville. It was his lowest score ever in a major (and he's played in 67 of them).
Lee Westwood, of England, shook hands with his caddie after firing a 6-under par 65 first round at the PGA Championship at Valhalla in Louisville. It was his lowest score ever in a major (and he's played in 67 of them). AP

LOUISVILLE — Lee Westwood. Remember him?

The good-natured Englishman with the wide smile who in 2010 supplanted Tiger Woods as the No. 1 golfer in the world; who's won tournaments on every continent; who used to regularly contend (only to come up short) in all the majors?

Not much has been heard out of Westwood lately.

He finished seventh in the Masters this spring, then missed the cut at the U.S. Open and British Open.

But the 41-year-old Brit was back in fine form while firing a 6-under par 65 Thursday in the first round of the 96th PGA Championship at Valhalla. That earned him a share of the lead with Ryan Palmer and Kevin Chappell.

Lurking just off the lead is Rory McIlroy, the newly minted British Open champ and No 1 player in the world. He birdied five of the last seven holes for a 66, tying him with Jim Furyk, Edoardo Molinari, Henrik Stenson and Chris Wood.

Westwood's 65 was his lowest score ever in a major. (He's played in 67.) He had nine birdies, including four in a row to finish his day. Not even a double bogey midway through the round could spoil his mood.

"I hit a lot of quality iron shots, and it felt like 65 was a fair enough score for the way I played," he said. "I got a couple of bad breaks ... but that's just the way it is.

"A bit of momentum is a wonderful thing."

Westwood wasn't surprised with his solid play. He shot a final-round 63 at the Bridgestone Invitational last week, an indication that he was finding his groove again.

"That obviously gave me some confidence coming into this week," he said.

Westwood, who had six top five finishes in the majors between 2004 and 2010, had been anxiously awaiting a turnaround.

"I'm just not a patient person," he said. "I get frustrated really quickly when I know I can play better."

Westwood has another agenda this week: He's trying to earn a spot on Europe's Ryder Cup team.

Kevin Chappell, who's ranked 107th in the world, had a neat 65 — six birdies, no bogeys. The former UCLA Bruin has one top 10 finish this season (at Colonial in May).

But the 28-year-old Chappell said his game has improved dramatically this year.

"There's been a few, let's say 'screws loose' that needed some tightening to get me near the leaderboard.

"I think I'm a lot more mature today than I was Jan. 1."

Chappell's also exhibited his dry sense of humor when asked if he watched the Ryder Cup when it was at Valhalla in 2008. "I don't really remember. It must have been when I was in college losing some brain cells."

Palmer took sole possession of the lead briefly with a birdie on his 16th hole (No. 7). That put him at 7-under.

"I knew," he said. "A few more people showed up. And when people are taking pictures of you walking, you know you're playing good."

But Palmer took a bogey on the next hole, dropping him back into a tie with Westwood and Chappell.

McIlroy could have had a sensational day if not for the 10th and 11th holes.

After he birdied the 9th, McIlroy was smiling and had a bounce in his step. After bombing his tee shot at the par-5 10th right down the middle, he was in perfect position to go for the green.

But he hooked his second shot left over a fence and out of bounds. He took a double bogey, and followed that with a three-putt bogey at the 12th.

"What I was really angry about was, OK, you make a 7, that's fine," McIlroy said. "But you don't compound that error and make a bogey on the next hole with a three-putt.

"Walking to the 12th tee, I was muttering a few things to myself."

The self-flagellation worked. McIlroy reeled off four consecutive birdies, then capped his rally with a birdie at the 18th.

Furyk, runner-up in last year's PGA at Oak Hill, has been strong in the majors again this year. He tied for 14th at the Masters, 12th at the U.S. Open and was fourth at the British Open.

Usually an iron man, Furyk took a month off after the U.S. Open.

"I didn't know how that would go. First time I've ever done that mid-season.

"But I'm fresh and mentally I feel pretty good out there."

Furyk closed his round with three birdies.

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