Tiger’s tale all the talk, but not at the top, at PGA Championship
Major-less Lee Westwood grabs a share of opening-round lead
Tiger Woods reacts to a tee shot on the second hole during the first round of the 96th PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club on Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014 in Louisville, Ky.
Photograph by: Warren Little, Getty Image
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In other news, Lee Westwood, Ryan Palmer and Kevin Chappell shared the lead Thursday at the 96th PGA Championship, after opening with six-under-par 65s.
Oh, and Rory McIlroy made five birdies after starting the back nine double-bogey, bogey, and shot 66.
But never mind that. Back to our top story: Tiger Woods's dramatic, gut-wrenching, three-over-par 74. It was … well, about as bad as the score indicated, but that didn't stop it from swamping all other news coverage of the season's final major at Valhalla Golf Club.
The game's most polarizing personage snapped tee shots left, blocked them right, chunked iron shots and … well, let him tell it.
"It wasn't very good. A lot of bad shots and I never got a putt to the hole. That's not a good combo," said the oft-injured 38-year-old, trying to put his latest back injury behind him (as it were), but looking rusty and underconfident and just generally out of sorts.
"My swing was dialed in on the range out there. Unfortunately, I didn't carry it to the golf course," he said, a refrain familiar to many a double-digit handicapper.
Grouped with Phil Mickelson, who recovered from a left-of-left opening tee shot to shoot 69 — "I mean, it was so far left I don't even know what to say. I was lucky it wasn't out of bounds. Horrific," he admitted — and Padraig Harrington, who limped to a 73, Woods at least got his suffering done by early afternoon. That left nearly half a day for his legion of dogged followers to recover from the trauma and devote a thought or two to the professionals who actually played well Thursday.
Happily, one of them was Westwood, the 41-year-old Englishman who has played more in majors, 62, without ever winning one than any active player, but who has had a rugged 2014 season.
On a warm, muggy day in Kentucky, he and Chappell, the 28-year-old from Fresno, Calif., who's never won on the PGA Tour, took advantage of soft conditions and were joined, much later, by Palmer (no relation) at 65, to co-lead by one stroke over McIlroy, Jim Furyk, Edoardo Molinari, Henrik Stenson and Chris Wood heading into a second round that looks as though it might run into thunderstorm problems.
Weyburn, Sask.'s Graham DeLaet had it to three-under before bogeying the 17th to finish at 69, while David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., struggled to a 74.
Palmer was the only player to get as low as seven under par at any point, before he bogeyed the par-three 8th to fall back into a share of the lead.
"I knew. You could tell … a few more people showed up, and when you get to where people are taking pictures of you walking, then you know you're playing good," Palmer said. "Because you know they're not (admiring) my clothes or my walk."
Chappell shot a no-fuss, bogey-free round that included a hole-out birdie from a bunker and just 24 putts. Westwood's was a little more adventurous.
"With a double-bogey in there (on his 10th hole, No. 1), it's obviously a good round of golf," said Westwood. "I made nine birdies. I hit a lot of good iron shots, and 65 felt like a fair enough score for the way I played."
Westwood's only two top-10s this season have been a seventh at the Masters and 6th at The Players, so it's not as though he's cherry-picked the easy ones. But he missed the cut at both the U.S. Open and the Open Championship, where he led after 54 holes a year ago — in fact, he hasn't played the weekend in four of his last six starts.
Shooting 65, then, his best-ever round in a major, was good for the soul … not to mention his chances of being on Paul McGinley's European Ryder Cup side next month. It would be his ninth.
"Obviously, I'm not in the team at the moment but I've had chats with Paul and he said, you know, try and show some form," Westwood said.
"I don't know whether he's just looking for a reason to pick me, but I shot 63 last Sunday (at the Bridgestone) and I'm leading a major this week, so I'm ticking that box for him."
The surprise was Chappell, who's had a mediocre season on the Tour. But then, there are always surprises at the PGA Championship. Some of them last all the way to the end, as Bob May did here in 2000, when he nearly beat Woods in a playoff.
"I don't really remember it. It must have been while I was in college, so I was losing some brain cells," Chappell joked.
"There's been a few, let's say, screws loose (this season) that needed some tightening to get me near the leaderboard. Haven't putted great, so it was nice to see some putts go in today."
Valhalla's supposed to be built for long hitters, and there were a few near the top of the board — notably McIlroy, who made four straight birdies after his poor start to the back — but Furyk, at 44, isn't among them. He has, however, compiled an impressive record in the majors in the past year — runner-up at the 2013 PGA, 14th at this year's Masters, 12th at the U.S. Open, 4th at Royal Liverpool. Not to mention second at The Players and the RBC Canadian Open.
"I was plugging along, two-under with three holes to play, having a good day and lo and behold, it was a nice finish birdieing 7, 8 and 9," said Furyk, who started on the back nine and also had no bogeys on his card.
He took a month off after the U.S. Open "and hit the ball very, very well at the British Open and the Canadian Open and really didn't miss a beat," he said
McIlroy hasn't missed a beat in weeks.
He said he was "very, very hot" after three-putting the 11th, when he had slid all the way back to even par after finishing the front three-under.
"Walking onto the 12th tee I was muttering a few things to myself," said the 25-year-old, who's won his last two starts. "It's trying to use that fire as fuel to sort of propel yourself forward. I think it just shows where my game is mentally right now, that I was able to do that today."
No one has run away with the lead, and McIlroy is but a single stroke behind. With weather coming …
"It's receptive already. Regardless of whether there is (rain) coming or not, I feel like it's a great setup for me," he said.
Aren't they all?
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