Westwood shares PGA lead after sizzling finish
Lee Westwood of England hits his tee shot on the 18th hole during the first round of the 96th PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club on August 7, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky - by David Cannon
The 41-year-old Englishman, who began with a 20-foot birdie putt at the 10th hole, closed with a masterful 40-foot birdie at the ninth to fire a six-under par 65, sinking birdies on five of his last six holes at Valhalla.
Despite a double bogey at the first hole, his 10th of the day, Westwood matched his best round in a major, from a rain-soaked course in the third round of the 2011 US Open, and was level for the clubhouse lead with Americans Kevin Chappell and Ryan Palmer.
"It's my lowest round in a major," Westwood said. "I've played better rounds of golf but I was really pleased with today.
"I played well, hit a lot fairways, putted nicely. I gave myself a lot of chances. All in all there was no real weaknesses out there."
American Jim Furyk, last year's PGA runner-up, and Italy's Edoardo Molinari shared second on 66 with Finland's Mikko Ilonen on 67.
World number one Rory McIlroy, coming off a British Open triumph in July and a World Championships win last week, made three birdies in a row -- the last a 30-footer at 14 -- to reach three-under with four holes to play.
The Northern Ireland star was three-under on the front nine but a disaster double bogey-bogey start to the back nine set him back.
Also still on the course were England's Luke Donald at four-under with six holes remaining and Sweden's Henrik Stenson, five-under with four to play.
- Nearly man nearly there -
Westwood, ranked 34th, has a near-miss history unmatched in golf over the past six years. He was third in the 2009 PGA Championship, 2009 and 2013 British Opens, 2008 and 2011 US Opens and 2012 Masters in addition to runner-up efforts at the 2010 Masters and British Open.
His lone triumph this year came at the Malaysian Open a week after finishing seventh at the Masters, but a big key to his successful start this week was his final-round 63 at last week's World Golf Championship event in Akron, Ohio.
After taking two shots to escape the rough for a double-bogey disaster at one, Westwood responded with a three-foot birdie at the fourth, added a 14-footer at six, then drained birdie putts of six and 16 feet ahead of his epic closer.
Chappell's bogey-free round saw him birdie the second and fourth, the ninth and 10th back-to-back, plus 13 and then two-putting from 40 feet for birdie at the par-5 18th.
Still seeking his first PGA title, Chappell has yet to crack the top nine in 24 starts this season.
"I learn most through struggles and obviously this year hasn't been smooth sailing, so I've been able to learn from those struggles and apply them to my game," Chappell said.
Palmer, a back-nine starter seeking his first victory since January of 2010, chipped in for birdie from 35 feet at the fifth, birdied the par-5 seventh to lead alone briefly only to miss a four-foot par putt at eight and fall back level for the lead.
- Woods struggles -
Tiger Woods struggled to a 74 and is in danger of missing the cut after shaking off a Sunday back injury to participate.
The 14-time major winner, who turns 39 in December, sprayed shots beyond cart paths and into deep rough time and again, made bogeys at the par-3 11th and 14th after missing the greens and the first and second holes after woeful tee shots. His lone birdie came when he holed out for birdie on a 34-yard shot from the fairway at the 16th.
"It wasn't very good," Woods said. "A lot of bad shots. I didn't play as well as I wanted to, and I didn't get a putt to the hole. That's not a good combo."
Five-time major winner Phil Mickelson opened with a 69 and said playing partner Woods "played with a lot of heart."
Scotsman Colin Montgomerie, coming off two major wins on the 50-and-over circuit, fired a 70 in quest of his long-sought first main tour major crown.
World number two Adam Scott of Australia was on 71.
Two players holding US Ryder Cup spots withdrew Thursday, sixth-ranked Matt Kuchar due to back spasms and defending champion Jason Dufner with a neck injury. Dufner is in the next-to-last points spot entering this final American qualifying event while Kuchar has already clinched a spot.