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'When putts start going in, good things happen to me': Woodland leads Fowler in PGA

By Adam Schupak

If this keeps up, Phil Kenyon is going to have to raise his rates just to limit the demand for his services.

Kenyon is fast becoming golf's "putting whisperer," coaching the likes of Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and reigning Open Championship winner Francesco Molinari to golfing glory.

His latest success story may be American Gary Woodland, who started working with Kenyon a few weeks ago and it already is paying dividends. Woodland made more than 150 feet of putts in the opening round of the 100th PGA Championship en route to shooting a 6-under 64 and claiming a one-stroke lead over Rickie Fowler.

"When putts start going in, good things happen to me," said Woodland, who won the Waste Management Phoenix Open earlier this year.

Woodland, 34, had been in a putting funk and he complained so much during the Open Championship in July that his agent and roomie that week, Mark Steinberg, called Kenyon after the third round and asked him to work with Woodland.

It didn't take long for Kenyon to identify the flaws in Woodland's stroke using video. During a session on Tuesday, Kenyon suggested Woodland switch to a SuperStroke putting grip and the rest, as they say, is history.

"It really started to click," Woodland said. Did it ever. Woodland got off to an inauspicious start with a bogey at his first hole and didn't make a birdie until the eighth hole, but then the cup started looking as big as a basketball hoop. Woodland, who can dunk, led the field in Strokes Gained: Putting (+4.365), which ranks as the best-putting round of his career.

A native of nearby Kansas, Woodland also rode what felt like a home-field advantage. This is the closest the Kansas Jayhawk grad ever has played to his former stomping grounds and he drove over to Bellerive Country Club a month ago for a reconnaissance trip and had "a million people" from Kansas, including family, rooting for him today. Asked to give a better count than a million, Woodland smiled and said, "A lot of people.

The good vibes led to his first lead following any round of a major championship. Woodland's record in golf's four biggest events is very pedestrian. He's never finished in the top 10 of a major championship. But a victory would lift him from No. 22 in the Ryder Cup standings into the top 8 automatic qualifiers for the U.S. side. The closest Woodland has come to making the team is being invited to the team fitting for the last seven years of Ryder Cup and President Cup teams.

"I tried all the clothes on, I've seen them all and I've just never had a chance to make the team," Woodland said.

Playing in the morning wave, Fowler led the field in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green (+3.482). He hit 16 greens and signed for six birdies in shooting 5-under 65. Fowler, 29, finished runner-up at the Masters in April, his third runner-up finish in a major and eighth top-5 of his career. He's winless this season, but his confidence in his ability to break through with his first major title hasn't taken a hit.

“I always have hope. I know Phil [Mickelson] didn’t win until his 30s,” Fowler said. “It’s not something I necessarily worry about. Keep putting ourselves in position, get in contention. We have had plenty of runner-ups. Jack [Nicklaus] had a lot of runner-ups. We’ll just keep beating down that door.”

Zach Johnson and Brandon Stone of South Africa shared third place at 66, and 10 golfers were another shot back, including Dustin Johnson, Jason Day and the English duo of Ian Poulter and Justin Rose.

Defending champion Justin Thomas was skating along at 3 under, but had a couple of back-nine hiccups and finished at 69 after failing to make a putt longer than 8 feet. It was another dreadful start for Tiger Woods, who stood 3 over after his first two holes, but he rallied to shoot even-par 70. That was a stroke better than Jordan Spieth, who needs to win the PGA to complete the career Grand Slam.

Among the Irishmen Shane Lowry led the way with 69, Rory McIlroy was a shot back with 70, Padraig Harrington struggled on the greens to 71 and Paul Dunne pulled up the rear with 73.