Notes: Westwood opens with 66; Casey, Stenson solid
PITTSFORD, N.Y. Resilient. That’s the best way to explain Lee Westwood.
The Englishman, living in West Palm Beach, Fla., has suffered more body blows in major championships than would put most golfers on the mat for the rest of their careers.
Not true of the 40-year-old who has 39 worldwide victories, but none designated a major championship.
It was just 19 days ago that Westwood walked out on the browned turf of Muirfield Golf Club with a two-shot lead over Hunter Mahan and Tiger Woods during the final round of the 142nd Open Championship.
With a fresh start for his long game from Sean Foley and a short-game refresher from Ian Baker Finch, Westwood looked to be in the best position to win his first major.
But it didn’t happen, carding a 5-over-75 to finish T-3 with Ian Poulter and Adam Scott.
PHOTOS: PGA Championship (Round 1)
Photos from the first round of the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y.
It was Westwood’s 16th top-10 finish in a major, but according to those around Westwood it was not as big a disappointment as other close finishes, mainly because his streaky short game was on the mend and his long game, a crutch all these years, was what let him down at Muirfield – and that was easily fixable.
“After the Open I could have looked upon it as disappointing, but as a golfer you try to take the positives out of it and carry on,” Westwood said after a first-round, 4-under 66 at the PGA Championship on Thursday.
“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.”
Just one shot off the lead of Jim Furyk and Adam Scott, Westwood is again in the mix in a major.
Missing the cut in 2003, the last time the PGA was at Oak Hill, Westwood is in the best position he has ever been after the first round of a PGA -- T-3 with Canadian David Hearn.
Westwood’s previous best was sixth after the first round in 2007 at Southern Hills Country Club.
The next step is to keep it going during a championship in which Westwood has had limited success – with just two top-10s in 15 starts, but they both came recently in 2009 and 2011.
“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,' ” Westwood 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. “
• • •
HANGING AROUND: Henrik Stenson has been on a roll during the last month. A third-place finish at the Scottish Open followed by runner-up finishes at the Open Championship and the Bridgestone Invitational – not a bad midseason run for the Swede.
His hot play didn’t change in Thursday’s first round as Stenson recorded a 2-under 68. But it was the bogey on the ninth, his last hole of the day, that bothered Stenson a bit.
“Had a horrible lie, played a great shot but then I missed from 4 feet for par, so that was a bit of a sour taste walking off there,” Stenson said. “But a few under, a 68 is never a bad first round in a major championship.”
Stenson seemed to have Oak Hill's number for most of the round. After making the turn at even-par 35, he threw up three birdies during the next six holes, but a bogey-birdie-bogey finish changed the focus after the round.
PHOTOS: PGA Championship Fashion (Thurs)
Check out all the fashion from the first round of the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y.
“I didn't play my best,” Stenson admitted. “I missed too many fairways but still keeping it together starting out the first three holes and had a bad spell where I was hanging on for dear life and had a good run and made five birdies my last 10 holes.”
• • •
UNIQUE MATH: OK, math majors, answer this: Is 7,200 yards more than 6,996 yards?
If you say yes, Robert Garrigus says you’re wrong. Oak Hill Country Club, which was set up at 7,200 yards for Round 1 of the PGA Championship, is shorter, competitively speaking, than Merion, which played at 6,996 for the U.S. Open in June.
“They’re similar golf courses,” Garrigus said, “but (Oak Hill) is not as long. Here you can cut the angles off with 3-irons and 4-woods. And out at Merion? You had to bomb driver everywhere. It was unbelievable. It seems like I was hitting either 6-iron off the tee or 4-wood into the green. It was amazing.”
Garrigus was quick to point out that despite a round of 80 to open things at Merion, “I still loved the golf course.”
That is convenient, because one of Garrigus’ first-round playing competitors was Mark Sheftic, the teaching professional at Merion.
Garrigus’ only complaint about Merion, where he withdrew after the first round, was the setup by USGA officials that called for out-of-bounds down the left side of 15th, outrageously close to the fairway.
“One of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen,” Garrigus said.
• • •
BOMBS AWAY? One of the Tour’s longest hitters, Garrigus said he hit just three drivers at Oak Hill – at the 574-yard, par-5 fourth; the 446-yard, par-4 ninth; and the 496-yard, par-4 18th. He made birdie at the fourth (driver, 4-iron, chip to 4 feet) and also at the other par-5, the 592-yard 13th.
The 13th, however, is a curious one. Most of the longer hitters can’t hit driver, and Garrigus went 3-iron, 4-iron, wedge. “Unorthodox,” he said, laughing, but he didn’t give it back.
Tiger Woods also went iron-iron-wedge and made birdie, but Martin Kaymer played it best. He holed a fairway shot for eagle.
• • •
UP AND DOWN: There was good and bad, as usual.
Bo Van Pelt posted his worst score in 23 PGA Championship rounds, an 80, and withdrew. He cited a hip injury. Jim Furyk on the other hand, opened with 65 and you’d have to go back a long way to find a better PGA Championship round by him – the 64 he posted in Round 2 of the 2001 championship at Atlanta Athletic Club.
• • •
CASEY BACK AT BAT: It was a morning of scoring, with damp conditions from the overnight rains and no winds – just the type of conditions that PGA Tour players dream about. Paul Casey was one of the 21 players under par in the morning with a 3-under 67.
For the Englishman it was his lowest round in a major since he shot a 67 in the third round of the 2010 Open Championship at the Old Course.
“The course is so receptive, if you knock it down the middle, give yourself some good numbers, you can be very aggressive to the flag, so the good numbers are not surprising whatsoever,” Casey said.
One shot off his lowest career round in a major – a 66 in the second round of the 2007 U.S. Open – Casey is on the comeback trail after a fall in confidence and the world rankings.
At the start of the 2012 season, Casey was ranked 20th in the Official World Golf Rankings, but had fallen to 118th by the end of the season and to 169th prior to his victory at the Irish Open earlier this season that vaulted him back near 100.
Ranked No. 95 in the world after finishing 27th at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last week, Casey is back in the majors rotation for now.
“I belong out here; I love it out here,” Casey said of playing in majors. “Having missed so many, it feels like a lot, for a year and a half, I'm very appreciative being back on the big stage.”
• • •
SHORT SHOTS: Peter Uihlein, who got into the field via an exemption, bogeyed six times on his first nine and shot 77. . . . Tommy (Two Gloves) Gainey posted the best score of his brief career in the majors, a 69. He’s yet to play in a Masters, U.S. Open or Open Championship, but in two previous trips to the PGA he had missed two cuts and failed to go lower than 74. . . . Graeme McDowell (70) matched par for just the second time in nine major championship rounds this season. . . . Darren Clarke shot 69, his first sub-par round in a major since winning the 2011 Open. Clarke had been 59 over in 16 major rounds since Royal St. George’s.