lee westwood

Lee Westwood shot a 66 Thursday, his best round in 16 PGA Championship starts.

Thursday Notebook: Westwood’s best major start

By T.J. Auclair, Stan Awtrey and The PGA of America

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Lee Westwood is still in search of that elusive first major. He's knocked on the door many times – most recently at the Open Championship, where he took a lead into the final round at Muirfield just weeks ago – but has never been able to kick the door in.

In his 16th start in a PGA Championship on Thursday, Westwood shot a 4-under 66 at Oak Hill, his lowest ever score in a PGA Championship. That put the Englishman one behind co-leaders Jim Furyk and Adam Scott.

“You try and base your year around the major championships,” Westwood said. “So it's nice to play well when you're coming into it. After the Open, you know, I could have looked upon it as disappointing, but as a golfer you try to take the positives out of it and carry on. I think there was a bit of a backlash at last week's tournament, the World Golf Championship. I struggled to get into it. I managed to get focused again this week and I felt very calm out there and in control."

DEFENDING CHAMP: It’s been a rough year for defending PGA Champion Rory McIlroy. At the end of 2012, the Northern Irishman’s game was otherworldly. This season, however, not so much.

Even still, McIlroy looks to have gained some confidence returning to the tournament where he won his second major championship, shooting a 1-under 69 in Thursday’s opening round. 

“Today was definitely positive,” said McIlroy, who had five birdies and four bogeys. “I felt like I played really, really well. I didn't play so well coming in, but I thought for the first few holes it was really good. And consistency day to day or hole-to-hole, you know, focus on each and every shot and try not to think ahead too much or think about anything else and really just focus on my shot.  That is what I'm trying to do.”

WEATHER DELAY: Dangerous weather (lightening in the area) suspended play at 4:25 p.m. in the first round. Rain fell – heavy at times – over Oak Hill. When the dangerous weather left the area, play resumed at 5:35 p.m. 

UNLIKELY EAGLES: With only two par 5s at Oak Hill Country Club, there aren't a whole lot of legitimate chances for players to make eagle. However, that's exactly what Kevin Streelman did at the par-5 fifth hole. 

"It's such a great par 5 because you have got to position your tee ball and your second shot to get a birdie," Streelman said.

And then he did one better than birdie.

"I hit a great drive down the right side, which I knew I needed to, and then hit a great 3-wood to the left side, which I knew I needed to because the pin was really just tucked in the back right corner," he said. "Pretty much had a straight look right up the gut. It was one of those that was tough to make, but had a good line on it and buried about a 60-, 70-footer there."

Martin Kaymer, winner of the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, also had an incredible eagle. Playing the 598-yard, par-5 13th hole – the longest at Oak Hill – Kaymer holed a shot from 153 yards out for his eagle.

FRONT NINE SPARKS ROSE: Justin Rose, the reigning U.S. Open champion, didn’t get the break he wanted at the 14th hole, but his first-round 67 left him in contention to win his second major of the year. 

Rose got off to a poor start with a bogey on the first hole, but he recovered and made four birdies over the last six holes to make the turn in 3-under 32. Rose shot even par on the second nine and will start the second round just two shots off the lead.

Rose was denied relief for an embedded ball at the 14th hole. Rose attempted to drive the green and appealed to an official that his tee shot was plugged. The official disagreed and Rose replaced the ball as he found it. His chip went past the hole and he settled for a par. 

OAK HILL KINDER TO KUCHAR: Maybe Oak Hill will be kinder to Matt Kuchar this time.

He came here in 1998 to defend his U.S. Amateur title and lost in the quarterfinals to Sergio Garcia. The two were paired together in the first round of the PGA Championship, with Kuchar shooting a 3-under 67 and Garcia shooting a 69.

Kuchar’s score matched the 67 he posted in 2010 when he was the first-round leader at Whistling Straits. He went on to tie for 10th that year, his best showing at the PGA Championship.

“With conditions the way they were, the greens were very receptive,” Kuchar said.

Kuchar kept the ball in the fairway and was able to play the consistent style that has enabled him to rise to No. 6 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He had 15 pars and three birdies, including one on the 18th hole.

“If you don’t drive it well out here, you can see some high scores,” Kuchar said.

‘ASIA'S DALY’ DEBUTS WITH 68: They refer to Kiradech Aphibarnrat as Asia’s John Daly because of his girth and his go-for-broke style. On Thursday, the 24-year-old native of Thailand showed he has game by posting a 70 in his PGA Championship debut.

“I tried to play my best golf,” Aphibarnrat said. “Don’t have any target, just take on my game plan and take on the fairway and give me a lot of chances to putt.”

Aphibarnrat made his major championship debut in the Open Championship. He opened with a 72, but followed with an 85 and missed the cut.

“The Open was tough. Same here,” he said. “This week I don’t want to force myself. I can’t say what score I want to shoot, just take on the game plan.”

HANGIN' TOUGH: Keegan Bradley, who has won and finished in a tie for third in his two career PGA Championship starts, didn't have his best stuff in Round 1 at Oak Hill. Luckily for Bradley, something short of his best was still good enough for a 1-under 69.

"I didn't play particularly well and shot 69, which is a really good sign," he said. "I'm going to hit the range here after lunch and get some stuff worked out. I didn't feel that comfortable over the ball, but I'm very proud of my score. I hung in there. This is a tough course. I made some good pars coming down the end."

WITHDRAWAL: Bo Van Pelt withdrew due to a hip injury. He shot a 10-over 80 in the first round before withdrawing.

FURYK MAKES A STATEMENT: With six birdies and a bogey on his final hole (No. 9), Jim Furyk shot 65, his lowest opening round ever in the PGA Championship. He’s tied with Adam Scott for the lead after the first round.

Furyk finished one shot off the competitive course record here at Oak Hill and one shot shy of his lowest score in any major championship (64 in the second round of the 2001 PGA Championship at The Atlanta Athletic Club).

Furyk, who had recorded consecutive ties for ninth coming into this week, said he used driver on seven of the 14 driving holes. He tied for 18th in 2003 here at Oak Hill.

HEARN’S STRONG FIRST IMPRESSION: Even with a bogey on his first-ever hole in the PGA Championship, Canada’s David Hearn was undaunted. Hearn, who got into the Championship last week when Brendan Jones withdrew, promptly birdied No. 2, then continued with birdies at holes 4, 6, 10, 11 and 16. He bogeyed 18 for a 4-under-par 66.

Hearn is playing in his fourth career major championship – he tied for 21st at the U.S. Open in June – and came into the PGA Championship having lost in a three-way playoff last month at the John Deere Classic.

OVERNIGHT RAINS, SOFTER GREENS: Hearn said the rains overnight definitely softened up the putting surfaces  

“It was fairly considerable. I think in the morning you're going to have softer conditions in general, but with the rain last night, it just made it even more soft,” said Hearn. “Spinning wedges back really wasn't happening in the practice rounds too much.  We were definitely spinning some wedges back a little bit today.  As I say, if we avoid the rain this afternoon, it will just continue to firm up and that won't happen as the week goes on, but it's nice to be able to take advantage of that today.” 

LABRITZ STRUGGLES EARLY, SETTLES FOR 78: The first player to tee off Thursday morning, PGA Club Professional Rob Labritz, double bogeyed No. 1 and played the first seven holes in 8 over par. However, Labritz, the PGA director of golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford Hills, N.Y., parred each of his last 11 holes, for 43-35—78.

TIGER’S BAD FINISH, STILL 3 BETTER THAN ‘03: Tiger Woods double bogeyed the ninth hole (his final hole of the round) and opened the PGA Championship with 1-over-par 71. That’s three shots better than his opening round in 2003 and is his best score in five PGA Championship rounds at Oak Hill.

Tiger also bogeyed the par-5 fourth hole, which is playing as the easiest in the first round.

TOUGH DAY FOR MICHEEL: Shaun Micheel, who won the 2003 PGA Championship in Cinderella-like style here at Oak Hill, had no such magic in his opening round. Micheel parred his first six holes but made double bogey on No. 7 and had four straight bogeys on the back nine en route to a 6-over-par 76.

OFFICIAL PRIZE MONEY ANNOUNCED: The PGA of America announced that the official prize money for the 95th PGA Championship is $8 million, with the Champion to receive $1.445 million.

FURYK AND SCOTT MATCH CAMPBELL: With their 65s, 2003 U.S. Open Champion Jim Furyk and 2013 Masters Champion Adam Scott share the lead after the first round. They also tied Chad Campbell for the low round posted in a PGA Championship here at Oak Hill. Campbell’s 65 in the third round in 2003 helped him to a runner-up finish.

The 65 also is Furyk’s lowest first-round score in a major championship. Scott’s previous low PGA Championship score was 67, in the final round in 2006. Scott’s all-time best score in a major championship is 64, in the 2012 Open Championship. 

MAJOR CHAMPIONS FINISH 6 UNDER PAR: Led by Scott’s 65, the trio of 2013 Major Champions who played together finished a collective 6 under par. U.S. Open Champion Justin Rose (68) and Open Champion Phil Mickelson (71) totaled 14 birdies, four bogeys and two double bogeys.

ONLY TWO PLAYERS GO BOGEY-FREE: Lee Westwood (who shot 66) and Matt Kuchar (67) were the only players in the field without a bogey, or worse, on their scorecard.

JIMENEZ’S CRAZY FIRST DAY: The total on Miguel Angel Jimenez’s card reads 2-under-par 68. The roundabout way he ultimately got there included:
Five consecutive birdies (equaling Adam Scott for the longest such string of birdies)
Seven total birdies
Two double bogeys
No pars made over his first eight holes

ABOUT THE SAME FOR MICKELSON: A double bogey on his final hole (No. 18) capped a back-and-forth day for 2013 Open Champion Phil Mickelson. Three over par through four holes, after a double bogey at No. 4, Mickelson rallied with four birdies from Nos. 9 through 14. Alas, Mickelson he back into “plus” figures after an errant drive on 18 ultimately led to his second double bogey, for a 1-over-par 71.   

TOUGHEST, EASIEST HOLES: The statistics tell us that the par-4 17th and the par-4 18th holes ranked as the two hardest holes, respectively, in the first round. The par-5 fourth hole was the easiest.

HARDEST HOLES:
No. 17, par-4: 4.378 scoring average, 52 bogeys, 7 double bogeys, 7 birdies
No. 18, par-4: 4.333 scoring average, 54 bogeys, 6 double bogeys, 14 birdies
No. 7, par-4: 4.308 scoring average, 45 bogeys, 8 double bogeys, 13 birdies

EASIEST HOLES:
No. 4, par-5: 4.667 scoring average, 61 birdies, 11 bogeys, 1 double bogey
No. 13, par-5: 4.859 scoring average, 47 birdies, 14 bogeys, 5 double bogeys, 1 score worse than bogey 
No. 2, par-4: 3.968 scoring average, 34 birdies, 23 bogeys, 3 double bogeys

FIVE TIED FOR LOW PGA CLUB PROFESSIONAL: Five players shot 73 to pace the contingent of 20 PGA Club Professionals in the field – JC Anderson of O’Fallon, Mo.; Danny Balin of Rockville, Md.; Ryan Polzin of Houston, Texas; Jeff Sorenson of Blaine, Minn.; and Bob Sowards of Dublin, Ohio. 

MAKE THAT 12 UNDER PAR FOR RORY: In his last 54 holes of PGA Championship play, from his final two rounds last year in Kiawah Island, S.C., through today, defending PGA Champion Rory McIlroy is a combined 12 under par. With closing rounds of 67-66 last year, and his 69 today, McIlroy has made 18 birdies against just six bogeys.  

KAYMER TOPS AMONG PGA CHAMPIONS: The 2-under-par 68 shot by 2010 PGA Champion Martin Kaymer was the best first-round score of the 12 PGA Champions who teed off at Oak Hill. Kaymer played holes 12 through 14 in 4 under par this afternoon, with an eagle 3 from the fairway at No. 13 producing the loudest roar of the day.    

Scores of the other PGA Champions in the field:
Keegan Bradley 69
Rory McIlroy 69
Vijay Singh 70
Rich Beem 71
Phil Mickelson 71
David Toms 71
Tiger Woods 71
Y.E. Yang 72
Davis Love III  74
Padraig Harrington  76
Shaun Micheel 76

TRYING TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF AN OPPORTUNITY: J.J. Henry, who got into the PGA Championship when 1996 PGA Champion Mark Brooks withdrew Wednesday because of an injury, had two bogeys and a birdie for a 1-over-par 71.

ADVANTAGE, CAPTAIN WATSON: Tom Watson and Paul McGinley, the 2014 United States and European Ryder Cup Team Captains, respectively, played in the same group. Watson shot 3-over-par 73 while McGinley finished with 78. 

95th PGA CHAMPIONSHIP … BY THE NUMBERS:
3: Eagles made in the first round (Nicolas Colsaerts and Kevin Streelman, on the par-5 fourth: and Martin Kaymer on the par-5 13th
7: Birdies on the par-4 17th hole today, the hardest hole on the course, which yielded the fewest birdies of any hole
12: Rounds under par, in the first two rounds combined, of the 1980 PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club
12: Rounds under par in the first round of the 2003 PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club
35: Rounds under par in the first round of the 2013 PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club
65: Low first-round score in the 2013 PGA Championship at Oak Hill (Jim Furyk and Adam Scott)
66: Low first-round score in the 2003 PGA Championship at Oak Hill (Phil Mickelson and Rod Pampling)
67: Low first-round score in the 1980 PGA Championship at Oak Hill (Craig Stadler)
72.13: Scoring average for the field in the first round of the 2013 PGA Championship at Oak Hill
75.01: Scoring average for the field in the first round of the 2003 PGA Championship at Oak Hill
7,200: Official yardage at Oak Hill for the first round of the 95th PGA Championship