Lee Westwood stormed into a share of the early lead with five birdies in his last six holes at the PGA Championship on Thursday as four-times winner Tiger Woods struggled in the opening round.
Englishman Westwood, long regarded as one of the best players in the game who has yet to clinch a major title, fired a six-under-par 65 on a muggy day at Valhalla Golf Club to finish joint top with American journeyman Kevin Chappell. “I played well, hit a lot fairways, putted nicely,”former world number one Westwood told reporters after racking up a total of nine birdies, one bogey and a double.
“I gave myself a lot of chances. All in all, there were no real weaknesses out there.” Westwood rebounded from a double-bogey at the par-four first, his 10th hole of the day, with birdies at the fourth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth to end his round with a spectacular flourish.
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Chappell, who missed the cut on his PGA Championship debut at Oak Hill last year, recorded three birdies on each nine as he and Westwood set the early pace in the year’s fourth and final major.
Dutchman Joost Luiten and Englishman Ian Poulter opened with 68s in relatively calm conditions at Valhalla but Woods, who pronounced himself pain-free on Wednesday after suffering a back scare on Sunday, struggled on the way to a three-over 74.
Watched by huge galleries after teeing off from the 10th in a high-profile grouping with former champions Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington, Woods looked rusty as he mixed four bogeys with a lone birdie and totaled 30 putts.
He dropped his first shot of the day at the par-three 11th where he missed the green to the right, then chipped 13 feet past the cup before failing to make the par putt coming back.His tee shot at the par-three 14th sailed way left and again he failed to get up and down for par, but he picked up an unlikely birdie at the par-four 16th when he holed out from 34 yards in the middle of the fairway.
Out in one-over 37, Woods dropped further shots at the par-four first, following another wayward drive, and also at the par-four second, where he cursed loudly after his tee shot ended up in a water hazard to the left.
Woods was left him nine shots off the lead after the opening round Thursday. He yanked one shot into the gallery, put another into a creek. He looked very much like someone playing just his 11th competitive round since back surgery March 31.
He then parred the last seven holes to end his round a distant nine strokes off the lead.
“That wasn’t very good,” said Woods. “A lot of bad shots.” Yep, there were. One landed in a creek. Another sent the gallery scrambling. Yet rolled into a fenced-off area where fans can use their cellphones, a good 30 yards right of the fairway.
Too bad Woods couldn’t call for help. “I didn’t play as well as I wanted to. I didn’t get a putt to the hole,” he said. “That’s not a good combo.”
Meanwhile, unheralded American Brendon Todd had seized the early lead at 3 under. This is a big week for Todd, who was 12th in the Ryder Cup standings and looking to push his way into an automatic spot at the final qualifying event.
Mickelson fights back
Fan favourite Mickelson, who clinched the 2005 PGA Championship at Baltusrol, fought back from a poor start with three late birdies to card a 69 while Australian world number two Adam Scott opened with a 71.
British Open champion and world number one Rory McIlroy, the pre-tournament favourite who is bidding for a third consecutive victory on the PGA Tour, was among the day’s late starters at Valhalla.
Meanwhile, weather forecasts predicted a chance of isolated showers later on Thursday with scattered thunderstorms likely on Friday and Saturday.