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Jones heads Aussies at US PGA

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Aussie Matt Jones in action at Valhalla. Photo: Getty

Three first-round leaders are sweating on the performance of the rampant Rory McIlroy after the first round of the United States PGA Championship, the season’s final major.

England’s Lee Westwood and Americans Kevin Chappell and Ryan Palmer all carded opening 65s to lead the tournament at Valhalla in Louisville, Kentucky, but McIlroy played a dynamic second nine today and is poised with intent.

The new world No.1 signed for a 66 after burning the edge for eagle at the final hole and is just a shot from the lead. His back nine included five birdies and a rare double bogey on the par-five 10th, where he went for the green with his second shot but hooked it out of bounds. He was puddling along at even-par through 11 before a run of four consecutive birdies ignited his round.

McIlroy is trying to become the first man since Padraig Harrington in 2008 to win back-to-back majors, having taken the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool last month. “I’ve got a good thing going now, and I’m just trying to ride the momentum,” he said after his round.

Chappell was still trying to figure out why he was invited, having slipped to 107th in the world after a poor season, but he seized the opportunity. “Not having success last year, I didn’t expect any favors,” he said. “I was grateful for it. All I wanted to do was take advantage of it. But I didn’t know how I got in the field until I got here.”

Westwood closed with four consecutive birdies, and said he had drawn upon his final-round 63 at Firestone last week, as well as some wise words from his caddie Billy Foster after he drove into a divot on the first hole.  “I’m just not a patient person and I get frustrated really quickly when I know I can play better than I’m actually doing,” Westwood said. “That’s where a good caddie comes in, sort of talks to you calmly and says, ‘Just keep doing what you’re doing and it will come.’ (I) hate to hear those words from him. But he’s right.”

Of the Australians, the best-placed are Matt Jones, who carded a three-under 68, Jason Day and Geoff Ogilvy (both 69), but  world No. 2 Adam Scott treaded water. Scott had a quiet opening 71. Mark Leishman also is even-par through the first round.

Former world No. 1 Tiger Woods carded an opening 74, three-over-par, after withdrawing at Firestone last week with back spasms and having his place in the field put in doubt. Woods is in 112th place, and said afterward that last week’s WD was unrelated to this year’s back surgery. He said his back felt “a little bit stiff”, but otherwise fine after his round.

Meanwhile Australia’s Katherine Kirk is in the running at the LPGA Classic in Belmont, Michigan. Kirk carded an opening 68 to be just two shots off the lead held by Germany’s Sandra Gal.

PGA SCORES

-6 Westwood, Chappell, Palmer

-5 Furyk, Molinari, Stenson, McIlroy, Wood

-4 Ilonen, Kelly

The Australians

68 Jones

69 Day, Ogilvy

71 Scott, Leishman

74 Bowditch

75 Senden, Deane

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