Lee Westwood backed up last weekend's good finish at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational with a brilliant opening round of the US PGA Championship to take a share of the early lead alongside American's Kevin Chappell and Ryan Palmer, one stroke ahead of the ominously poised Rory McIlroy. 

The Englishman, 40, shot a six-under 65 despite a sloppy double-bogey at his first hole of the tournament. He bounced back in fine style, however, and his hat-trick of birdies to finish thanks to some sublime putting sees him out in front in Louisville. 

McIlroy lurks

Last week's winner McIlroy, though, who is chasing back-to-back Major victories following his maiden Open title at Hoylake three weeks ago, once again drove the ball magnificently and his five-under 66 sees him sit just one of thee pace going into Friday.

Despite a double-bogey, bogey start to this back nine that saw him drop to level par following a front nine 32, the 25-year-old birdied five his remaining seven holes including four on the spin from 12 to 15. 

World number three Henrik Stenson also carded 66, as did fellow European Edoardo Molinari. The Italian finally looks to be heading back to the sort of form that saw him qualify for the 2010 Ryder Cup following numerous battles with injury. 

Former world number one Adam Scott shot an unspectacular round of level par.

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Watson's nightmare

England's Chris Wood (66), Ian Poulter (68), Justin Rose (70) and Luke Donald (70) are all in the hunt under par, while Finland's Mikko Ilonen (67) and Ireland's Shane Lowry (68) are also in contention early on as the European contingent gave another strong showing on day one. 

It was a tough day for US Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson, though, in spite of his respectable 72. Matt Kuchar was forced to withdraw with a back injury, and just hours later he was joined by the defending US PGA champion Jason Dufner, who had two bulging disks in his neck. 

Both are currently automatic qualifiers for Gleneagles, but can now both be considered doubtful for the continental meeting with Europe in September. 

And Watson was given even less to smile about earlier in the day by Tiger Woods, who attracted an enormous following on Thursday following his late decision to compete after his withdrawal last Sunday with just nine holes to play in Akron. 

The 14-time Major champion could only muster a single birdie and four bogeys on his way to a 74, leaving him nine strokes adrift of the lead set by Westwood, Palmer and Chappell and struggling to make the halfway cut in tied-109th. 

Valhalla casualties

Two high-profile casualties at Valhalla were two-time Major winner Angel Cabrera, who shot an 11-over 82, and Italy's Matteo Manassero, who was just two shots better than the Argentinian at nine over.

It was an engrossing day's golf in Louisville, with some incredible skill on display from the stellar cast of players who routinely make the US PGA field the best of the year. 

The forecast suggests it will be a little bit windier when the second round gets underway, but with rain forecast to continue to soften up the course as well as the fair scoring conditions on offer thanks to the way the PGA of America have set up the course, Friday will once again offer plenty of low scores. 

If McIlroy backs up his opening 66 with anything near that number, he will take some catching.

Topics:
Rory McIlroy
PGA Tour
Golf
Tiger Woods
Lee Westwood