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Lee Westwood takes early advantage

Lee Westwood shot a 7-under 63 Thursday, taking a one stroke lead in the opening round at the St. Jude Classic.

The Englishman took advantage of no wind and a rain-softened course to equal his best score on the PGA Tour in the suspended first round. The world’s No. 3-ranked player tied the course record for the back nine with a 29 with four of his five birdies and an eagle. He parred out his final eight holes.

“Pleased with the start, 63 is always a good start,” Westwood said. “I couldn’t be disappointed with that. Could have been better, but I’m not going to cry too much about missing from 4 feet on the last.”

Not bad for someone who flew from London to San Francisco to play 27 holes Sunday at Pebble Beach with another 18 Monday before heading to Memphis. Westwood played nine holes Tuesday and a practice round Wednesday in his first visit to this course, but wound up with near-perfect scoring conditions in the eighth group off the 10th tee Thursday.

“My caddie said normally there’s a bit of breeze that blows. You try and score when you get your morning time on the first two days when it’s fairly calm, so that’s what I tried to do,” Westwood said.

Casey Wittenberg shot a 64, Padraig Harrington had a 65 and Tim Petrovic, John Senden and Bob Estes were among eight tied at 66 before a severe thunderstorm stopped play for nearly an hour. The round was suspended with 20 golfers left on the course.

No one teeing off in the afternoon cracked the leaderboard with muggy conditions smothering the course with 100-degree heat, and wind that usually toughens this course staying relatively still before the storms developed.

“It was probably as easy conditions as you will get out here on Southwind,” said Garrett Willis, who shot 66 in the morning.

Defending champ Brian Gay, who was under par each round in winning a year ago, opened with a 73. Jordan Spieth, the Texas teen who became the sixth-youngest player to make a PGA cut at the Byron Nelson last month, also shot a 73.

Westwood is playing on a sponsor’s exemption extended after being originally turned down. That prompted him to joke to reporters at the time it might be due to his sponsorship deal with UPS for an event in a town where rival FedEx is headquartered. He had been given an exemption two years ago, then withdrew a week before the tournament.

It was his first time in Memphis and Westwood said it was a great place to prepare for the upcoming U.S. Open.

“I’ve never been to Memphis, so it’s somewhere I wanted to come and play,” Westwood said. “It’s the week before the U.S. Open. I like to be competitive before a major championship. I played Houston before the Masters. Being competitive means more to me than actually adapting to the conditions. … I like to get used to making the 3-, 4-footers when they mean something.”

Westwood mixed good putting with strong iron play, needing only 11 of his 24 putts through his first 10 holes. He rolled in a 30-footer on the par-4, 15th and a 15-footer on the par-4, 18th for birdies. He stuck a 5-wood within 4 feet to set up his eagle putt on the par-4, No. 16.

The putter failed him on his 18th hole, the par-4 , No. 9, as he just missed from 4 feet.

Westwood matched the 63 he shot during the third-round of the 2005 World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. The 37-year-old Englishman is playing well this year, having made the cut in all seven events here this year including second at the Masters with four top 10s.



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