LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The outcome has often been agonizing, but at least Lee Westwood can take comfort in this: He’s off to his best-ever start in a major.
It remains to be seen, of course, whether his opening 6-under 65 Thursday at the PGA Championship was the beginning of a most unexpected breakthrough or yet another major frustration.
No player in the past 80 years has come so close so often – his eight top 3s in majors are the most of any player without a victory.
“It’s a frustrating game,” he conceded.
That he summoned nine birdies in his opening round here at Valhalla surprised many, but not Westwood.
Despite entering the Bridgestone Invitational with four consecutive missed cuts, he fired his lowest round of the year (by two) during a Sunday 63 at Firestone that helped salvage a top-20 finish. If you thought something clicked that day, during that torrid round, you’d be wrong.
Westwood said he grooved his swing not at the tournament but on his home range at Old Palm. That’s where he was two weeks ago with coach Mike Walker, pounding balls in the South Florida summer heat, developing “a few good feelings” in his swing.
During that round at Firestone, he said, “It was just nice to turn good swing and good technique into a good score.”
On Thursday, Westwood closed with four birdies in a row (and five in his last six holes) to share the early first-round lead with Kevin Chappell. Even with a double bogey, the 65 matched Westwood’s lowest-ever round in a major, and it gave him just his second first-round lead (2012 Masters) with the afternoon wave still to finish.
That opening 67 at Augusta proved to be the start to yet another T-3 finish, but those hoping Westwood gets off the major schneid here needn’t look further than Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy, both of whom won majors this season in wire-to-wire fashion.
To Westwood, it’s far from hardware-or-bust this week, not with so much else on the line.
In recent weeks European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley has urged Westwood to “try and show some form” over the final few weeks of qualification, and the Englishman has answered the bell by throwing down the closing 63 in Akron and now holding a share of the first-round lead here.
“I’m ticking that box for him,” he said.
Having made eight consecutive teams, Westwood admitted that he doesn’t even know where he stands in the rankings, but knows that he doesn’t want to rely on a captain’s pick – too much pressure.
“You’ve got to try and sort of justify your pick,” he said. “I don’t want to be in that position. I’d rather qualify for the team.”
After his best-ever start in a major, there seems only two outcomes: Westwood will either break his duck or, once again, break his heart.