England’s Lee Westwood looked to have few scars from his latest Major heartache as he moved to within a shot of the lead after the first round of the US PGA Championship.
American Jim Furyk and Masters Tournament winner Adam Scott came within one of the course record at a rain-softened Oak Hill to lead on five under, with Westwood leading The European Tour challenge a shot further back alongside Canada’s David Hearn.
Westwood, seeking the first victory of a Major Championship career now entering its 63rd tournament and encompassing ten top-five finishes, led by two going into the final round of The Open Championship only to be denied by Phil Mickelson at Muirfield.
But the 40 year old again produced on the biggest stage with a bogey-free 66 - his lowest score at a US PGA Championship - with compatriot Paul Casey and Australian Marcus Fraser next best of The European Tour contingent on three under.
“You try and base your year around the Major Championships, so it's nice to play well when you're coming into it,” said Westwood.
“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. 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.”
World Number One Tiger Woods, seeking his 15th Major title but a first since the 2008 US Open Championship, was two under after six holes but eventually finished one over after a double bogey six on the ninth, his final hole.
Open Champion Mickelson also shot 71 after suffering the same fate - although his last hole was the 18th - while defending champion Rory McIlroy had to settle for a 69 after three birdies in his first four holes and US Open winner Justin Rose bogeyed the last for a 68.
Westwood could easily have been sharing the lead if not for missing a number of decent chances on the back nine, including one from five feet on the 13th when play resumed after a 70-minute weather delay.
"I was a bit unlucky there because when I marked my ball I noticed there was a spike mark in the way and I thought I could do with it raining a lot to flatten it out," Westwood added.
"But when we came back it was still there and my ball hit it and went left, but it was nice to birdie the 17th and 66 with no bogeys is a great way to start."
Fraser, who overcame a bogey-bogey start with five birdies, said: “It was good. I went out there and just gave it everything I had at the time. I’ve been struggling a bit, and everything sort of came together.“
Casey had led the English challenge all day until Westwood's score, the 36 year old in the third group out at 7:35am and posting a 67.
The former World Number Three, down at 169th in the Official World Golf Ranking after struggling for form and fitness before winning the Irish Open in June, carded five birdies and two bogeys; a sharp contrast to 12 months ago when he missed the cut with rounds of 79 and 85.
McIlroy, who has been watching videos of his eight shot win at Kiawah Island last year for inspiration, said: "I got off to a fast start but the bogeys on the tenth and 11th halted my momentum.
"I came back after the delay with a nice birdie on the 12th but the last four hole stretch is pretty tough. All things considered one under is not a bad score."
Furyk, looking to become the second 43 year old in succession to win a Major after Mickelson's Open triumph, was set to equal the course record of 64 when he reached six under, but bogeyed the last for a five under 65.
And Scott had dreams of shooting the first round of 62 in Major history when he stormed to the turn in 30 with five birdies in succession and reached six under after 14, but bogeyed the 16th.
"There's nothing to complain about with a 65 but I was feeling it when we had the delay and when we came back I had a 233 yard par three with my first swing," Scott said.