Lee Westwood, Ryan Palmer and Kevin Chappell are on top of the leaderboard after the first round of the 96th USPGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Kentucky

Lee Westwood, Ryan Palmer and Kevin Chappell are on top of the leaderboard after the first round of the 96th USPGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Kentucky.

They lead a five-strong group on five-under-par – including Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson – by a single shot after a birdie-laden opening day in the final major of the season.

At the other end of the leaderboard, Tiger Woods – who surprised almost everyone when he declared himself fit to play following a withdrawal from last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational – stumbled to a three-over-par 74 and continues to look a shadow of his former self.

Westwood, though, built on the momentum he gained from a strong closing round at Firestone.

He reached the turn in three-under-par 33, doubled the 1st hole – his 10th – but rebounded with five birdies over the final six holes.

“Obviously I played very, very well on Sunday and I just wanted to keep that going,” said Westwood told Sky Sports.

“I have kept my practice very low key over the first three days – only played nine holes each day – and I was ready to go this morning and I played well.

“I putted nicely. I gave myself lots of chances and rolled the ball really nicely on the greens.”

Chapell, a fellow morning starter, made serene progress around Valhalla, carding six birdies in a bogey-free opening round.

Palmer, meanwhile, fared the best of the afternoon wave. He reached the turn in five under and consolidated on the back nine to give himself a share of the lead in a major for the first time.

A number of good scores were posted from the late USPGA Championship starters, including 66s from Stenson and McIlroy, who once again drove the ball supremely and bounced back from three dropped shots at 10 and 11 with four consecutive birdies.

“Three-putting after making double on 10, my response after that was really good, and it shows mentally where I am at with my game,” he said.

“I’m really happy with the five-under start.

“I am driving the ball fantastically well, I’m really confident with it and the fairways this week are a little more generous than they were last week at Firestone.”

Englishman Chris Wood, whose best finish in the USPGA Championship was a tie for 76th in 2009, compiled a bogey-free 66 to sit alongside the world numbers 1 and 4, a resurgent Edoardo Molinari and Jim Furyk.

Elsewhere, Shane Lowry, Ian Poulter and Danny Willett carded 68s, Phil Mickelson shot 69 and Luke Donald and Justin Rose finished the first round on one-under-par.

Overall, there are 53 players within six shots of the lead, but with rain heavy rain forecast on Friday, those starting early might have an advantage.