x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

PGA Championship: Scott and Furyk lead with stress-free Westwood a shot back

Adam Scott and Jim Furyk took advantage of the soft conditions to take a one-stroke lead over Lee Westwood and David Hearn as the US PGA Championship entered its second round Friday.

Adam Scott quickly put memories of the British Open behind him and finds himself sharing the first-round lead with Jim Furyk, with Lee Westwood a stroke back. Stuart Franklin / AFP
Adam Scott quickly put memories of the British Open behind him and finds himself sharing the first-round lead with Jim Furyk, with Lee Westwood a stroke back. Stuart Franklin / AFP

PITTSFORD, NY // Oak Hill may never be this vulnerable again.

Adam Scott and Jim Furyk sure took advantage of the rain-soaked course that looked more like a regular tour stop than a test of major proportions.

So did a bunch of other players who signed for 60s on Day 1 of the US PGA Championship.

But not Tiger Woods.

Looking very much like a player who will soon be 0 for 18 in the majors since his 2008 triumph at the US Open, Woods failed to capitalize on a setup that was very much there for the taking.

He closed with a double-bogey to finish with a 1-over 71 and went into Friday's second round with a staggering 49 players standing between him and the top spot on the leaderboard.

"The round, realistically, could've been under par easily," said Woods, who came in with five victories this season, including a seven-shot runaway last week at the Bridgestone.

With overnight showers and humid conditions keeping the course soft, birdies fell into the cup at an alarming rate.

Scott ripped off five in a row on the way to a 65. Furyk had a bogey-free round going until a stumble at the final hole left him with a 65, as well.

Lee Westwood and unheralded Canadian David Hearn were one shot back, and a total of 35 players broke par.

That compares to only 10 rounds in the 60s when the PGA Championship was at Oak Hill a decade ago.

Graeme McDowell, who shot 70, expects it to be much more challenging by the weekend.

"The golf course can easily be protected with pins," he said. "They can soon tuck these pins away and make this a difficult test."

While Woods came in as the overwhelming favorite, Scott increasingly looks like a player who will add more major titles to the one he finally got in a Masters play-off back in April.

Just three weeks ago, he had the Sunday lead in the British Open on the back nine at Muirfield before fading.

Thursday, in the last major of the year, there were times he looked unstoppable.

"Just got on a bit of a roll and hit a few shots close," Scott said. "I didn't have too much putting to do. You've got to take advantage when it happens, because it doesn't happen too much in the majors.

"Nothing to complain about in 65."

He had already surged into a tie with Furyk when storms moved through the Rochester area, forcing a 71-minute delay. After the weather cleared, Scott added a sixth birdie on the par-4 14th to reach 6 under.

He was on pace to tie the major championship record at Oak Hill until a three-putt bogey on the 16th. But he closed on a high after an errant drive, rolling in a 15-footer to save par.

Furyk, who won his lone major at the US Open in 2003 at Olympia Fields, has gone nearly three years since his last win at the Tour Championship to capture the FedEx Cup and win PGA Tour player of the year.

Still fresh are the four close calls from a year ago, including the US Open.

For his part, Westwood insists he cannot remember the last time golf stressed him out.

He concedes that his focus wavered at his first tournament after his latest near-miss at a major. But he was contending again Thursday, opening with a birdie and shooting a bogey-free, 4-under 66 that put him a stroke behind the leaders.

The 40-year-old Englishman took a two-stroke lead into the final round of the British Open last month, but he went on to shoot a 4-over 75 for a share of third place.

Back on the course at the Bridgestone Invitational last week, Westwood tied for 40th.

"I struggled to get into it," he said. "I managed to get focused again this week, and I felt very calm out there and in control."

He has finished in the top three at a major eight times in his career. Yet no matter how many times he's pressed about it, Westwood won't call that disappointing.

"Somebody was asking me the other day: 'Does it get you down and do you get stressed when people go on about not winning a major championship'?" he said. "I said, 'No, you really don't get stressed about golf anymore'.

"I played golf for 20-odd years out here on the best courses in the world and I get up every day and go and do something that I love. Golf doesn't stress me or disappoint me very often anymore.

"In fact, I can't remember the last time it did. Just get on with it and just realize how lucky you are."

Westwood has won 38 times around the world and toppled Woods from the No 1 ranking in 2010.

But those accomplishments get viewed through the prism of his major drought.

At the British Open at Turnberry in 2009, he three-putted to miss a playoff. At the 2010 Masters, he held the 54-hole lead.

Now he lurks near the top of the leaderboard at another major. Westwood frequently pulled out his driver Thursday, going right after a soft course.

"I'm just an aggressive player," he said. "I think if you are a straight driver of the golf ball, you have got to take advantage of that. You've got to use it as a plus and try to make the golf course play as short as possible."

He has still got a long way to go this week at Oak Hill.

 

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