Louisville, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - Lee Westwood hasn't been having the kind of season one would expect, but he turned things around on Thursday at the PGA Championship.
Westwood fired a 6-under 65 to grab a share of the first-round lead. He was joined there by Kevin Chappell and Ryan Palmer.
The Englishman finished seventh at the Masters and won the following week in Malaysia, but has missed the cut in four of his last five starts, including at both the U.S. Open and Open Championship.
The leaders have plenty of company. World No. 1 and Open Champion Rory McIlroy overcame a double-bogey, bogey start to his second nine to post a 5-under 66.
McIlroy was joined in fourth place by last year's runner-up Jim Furyk, Henrik Stenson, Edoardo Molinari and Chris Wood.
Jerry Kelly, who replaced Dustin Johnson in the field, posted a 4-under 68 and he stands alongside Mikko Ilonen. Ian Poulter and Kentucky native J.B. Holmes headlining a group nine players tied at minus-3 at Valhalla Golf Club.
Rickie Fowler, who has finished in the top-5 at each of the seasons first three majors, opened with a 2-under 69. He is tied for 20th with Phil Mickelson, Graham DeLaet, Steve Stricker and several others.
Masters winner Bubba Watson had a pair of late bogeys, which left him at minus-1. He played alongside McIlroy and U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who also posted a 1-under 70 in the opening round.
Four-time champion Tiger Woods mixed four bogeys and a birdie in a round of 3- over 74. Woods bogeyed the 11th and 14th, both par-3s. He came back with a chip-in birdie on the 16th. Around the turn, a pair of poor drives at one and two led to bogeys. Woods wrapped up his round with seven pars in a row.
Westwood is one of the top players to never win a major, having won 23 times on the European Tour and twice on the PGA Tour. He was the runner-up at the 2010 Masters and U.S. Open, and shared third at the 2009 PGA Championship.
He opened with a 20-foot birdie putt at the 10th. Westwood made a second birdie at the 14th, but gave that right back as he bogeyed the 15th. At the 17th, he rolled in a 5-footer for birdie to move back to minus-2.
The Englishman made it two in a row at the 18th, where he played his third inside two feet and kicked that in for birdie. His drive at the first, his 10th, stopped in a sand-filled divot and he came up short with his second. That led to a double-bogey, which dropped Westwood to 1-under par.
Westwood bounced back with a 4-foot birdie putt on the fourth. He rolled in a birdie try on the sixth and followed with another on No. 7. Westwood was just short of the par-5 in two and 2-putted for that birdie from off the green.
At the eighth, he drained an 18-footer for birdie, then poured in a 35-foot birdie try on the ninth to post 65.
Westwood's 65 matched his best round in a major championship. He also fired a 65 in the third round of the 2011 U.S. Open. His best round at the PGA Championship was a 66 last year in the opening round.
"It's my lowest round in a major with a double in there. It's obviously a good round of golf. I've played better rounds of golf, but I was really pleased with today," Westwood said. "I hit a lot of quality iron shots, and it felt like 65 was a fair enough score for the way I played. I got a couple of bad breaks out there, but I rolled a couple of putts in, like the one on nine that you probably wouldn't expect to hole. But that's just the way it is. A bit of momentum is a wonderful thing."
Chappell, whose only top-10 this year was at Colonial, is playing in just his sixth major championship. He did share third at the 2011 U.S. Open.
He opened his bogey-free round with a birdie on the second. He came back with a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 4. He ran off four pars in a row from the fifth. At the ninth, Chappell dropped his approach to 12 feet and converted that for his third birdie.
Chappell holed a bunker shot for birdie on the 10th to make it two in a row. He rolled in a 15-footer for birdie on the 13th and closed his round with a 2- putt birdie on the par-5 18th.
"I guess I was in a good rhythm out there. Drove the ball well," stated Chappell. "Hit a lot of greens and gave myself some opportunities and I was able to take advantage of it, something that hasn't happened a lot for me this year, but looking forward to building on today and moving forward."
Palmer got off to a quick start with birdies on 10 and 11. He drained 19-foot birdie putts at 14 and 17. Palmer 2-putted for birdie on No. 18 to make the turn at minus-5.
On the front side, Palmer parred his first four. He chipped in for birdie at five, then made a birdie on the seventh to move into the lead. However, Palmer's tee shot on the eighth sailed over the green. He putted inside five feet, but missed the par putt and fell back into a share of the lead.
"It was great to come out on a Thursday and get a low round in there and take a little pressure off going into tomorrow," Palmer said. "My short game saved me obviously on the back, on my front nine. Made a great up-and-down I guess on two, and then a great chip-in on five kind of kept my round going"
McIlroy had three birdies on the front nine, then hit one out of bounds on the 10th and that led to a double-bogey. He followed with a bogey on No. 11 to fall to even-par. The 2012 PGA Champion rebounded with four consecutive birdies from the 12th. After narrowly missing birdie chances on 16 and 17, McIlroy birdied the 18th to get within one.
"Things like what happened on 10, they happen. You hit bad shots. It sort of knocked me off track a little bit, because it's one of the only bad shots I've hit in a few weeks," McIlroy stated. "What I was really angry about was that you don't compound that error and make a bogey on the next hole with a 3-putt. Walking on to 12th tee, I was muttering a few things to myself. It was great just to hit that second shot the way I did. I hit the second shot in there close and made birdie on that hole, and made me feel better."
Furyk had a bogey-free round that started with one birdie and eight pars on the back nine, his opening nine on Thursday. Around the turn, he birdied the first. Furyk capped his round with three birdies in a row.
Molinari mixed seven birdies and two bogeys in his round of 66. Stenson had six birdies and a bogey, while Wood had five birdies and no bogeys in his round.
NOTES: Westwood is playing his 67th major championship this week, second most behind Colin Montgomerie (71) for those in the field that haven't won a major championship title ... Palmer's 65 topped his previous best round in a major by three strokes ... This is the first time Palmer has held or shared the lead after the first round of any major championship ... Last year's winner Jason Dufner withdrew after 10 holes with lingering neck problems, which were caused by two bulging discs in his neck.