Westwood in PGA birdie-fest

Louisville - Britain's Lee Westwood has birdied his last four holes, the final stroke a masterful 40-foot birdie putt, to grab a share of the first-round lead on Thursday at the PGA Championship.

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 to stand level with American Kevin Chappell in the clubhouse.

"I played well, hit a lot fairways, putted nicely, obviously which you need to do if you are going to shoot a low score," Westwood said. "I gave myself a lot of chances. All in all there was no real weaknesses out 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.

"Last week was a big week for me," he said. "Going into last week, I felt like I turned the corner. I was starting to swing it a lot better.

"The first three rounds were frustrating. Then I got it going the final day, shot 63. Then tried to keep it low key in the practice rounds, carry that momentum through to the first round, which I've managed to do, made nine birdies."

Westwood, saying the 7,458-yard layout has greatly changed since his losing effort with Europe at the 2008 Ryder Cup, played only three sets of nine holes in practice because he liked what he saw in the Valhalla course.

"I tried not do too much in the practice rounds, because it felt like it was the kind of golf course where it was just all there in front of you and you just played it as you see it," Westwood said.

Westwood, who began on the back nine, holed a 20-foot birdie putt at 10 to open his round and followed with a 13-foot birdie at 14, but took a bogey after an eight-foot par miss at 15.

He made short birdie putts at 17 and 18 but had a double-bogey disaster at the first, needing two shots to escape the fairway rough.

But he responded by dropping his approach at the fourth to three feet and then launched his closing birdie run with a 14-footer at the sixth.

Westwood dropped in a six-footer at the par-5 seventh, a 16-foot birdie putt at the par-3 eighth and his monster 40-footer at nine.

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.

- Woods struggles to 74 -

Tiger Woods struggled to find fairways and greens, spraying shots beyond cart paths and into deep rough time and again on his way to shooting a 74, nine off the pace and in danger of missing the cut.

The 14-time major champion, chasing the all-time record 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, was doubtful with a back injury until declaring himself fit after a Wednesday practice round.

Woods, who also began off the 10th tee, took bogeys at the par-3 11th and 14th, each time missing the green off the tee and failing to convert a 13-foot par putt.

After answering at the 16th by holing out for birdie on a 34-yard shot from the fairway, horrible tee shots led to bogeys at the first and second holes, the latter eliciting a curse and causing Woods to slam his club into the ground. He parred his last seven holes but the damage was already done.

There was a withdrawal Thursday due to back spasms, but it was by sixth-ranked American Matt Kuchar.

World number one Rory McIlroy, coming off a British Open triumph in July and a World Championships win last week, joined Masters winner Bubba Watson and US Open champion Martin Kaymer of Germany in the feature afternoon threesome.

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