LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Ryan Palmer wanted to set the record straight.

"I think Tiger photobombed me," he said Thursday.

Tongue placed firmly in cheek, the PGA Tour journeyman referenced a lighthearted photo from Woods' surreal Wednesday practice round that went viral, the one in which Palmer struck a goofy pose while crossing a bridge with Woods in the background and an army of photographers ahead.

Picture this: Those photographers focused their attention on Palmer on Thursday during the 96th PGA Championship at Valhalla. His 6-under 65 tied him for the first-round lead with Lee Westwood and Kevin Chappell on a cloudy day with no wind but plenty of red numbers.

"When you get to where people are taking pictures of you walking, then you know you're playing good," Palmer said.

Woods made no impact with a 3-over 74, but Rory McIlroy headed a group of five, including Jim Furyk and Henrik Stenson, that was one shot behind the leaders. Considering McIlroy was coming off victories at the British Open and Bridgestone Invitational, making up one shot could be as easy as pressing the shutter button on a camera.

"My swing is in a very good place," McIlroy said.

McIlroy almost tied the leaders with an eagle on No. 18, but his putt appeared to hit a spike mark inches from the hole to slide just wide. As it stood, McIlroy had eight birdies, including four straight after he became "very, very hot" for reasons other than his scorching play.


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McIlroy made a double bogey on the par-5 10th after blasting his second shot over a fence for a penalty. Bad shots happen, even for the world's top-ranked player. But what upset McIlroy was following that with a three-putt bogey on the par-3 11th.

"Walking to the 12th tee, I was muttering a few things to myself," he said.

Whatever they were, they worked. McIlroy's approach shot on the difficult par-4 12th was pure from the start, and his birdie binge began.

"It just shows where my game is mentally right now," he said.

Westwood, who has worn the Best Player Never To Have Won A Major label for too long, closed his nine-birdie round with four straight, including a 35-foot bomb on No. 9.

This major has produced some unexpected winners over the years, and Palmer and Chappell would love to join the group. Chappell received a surprise invitation from the PGA of America last week and celebrated with a bogey-free round.

"I guess I was in a good rhythm out there," he said.

So was Palmer, who clearly relished his moment in the camera's eye.

"We'll go out (Friday) and keep going for it," Palmer said.

  • The scrambling rounds of playing partners Woods and Phil Mickelson (69) were set on their first hole, the par-5 10th.

    Mickelson hit a drive so far left that it almost displaced any early-arriving corporate tent patrons.

    "Horrific," he said.

    After a signature Mickelson recovery shot over the trees and a long lag putt, he tapped in for par. Woods, meanwhile, reacted angrily to leaving his birdie putt just short.

    "I never got a putt to the hole," Woods lamented of a round that required 30 putts.

    Mickelson did, posting two of his five birdies on his final three holes to resurrect a round that sat at 2 over through eight.

    "I wasn't worried," he said. "My game finally has kind of come together, and the confidence just needs to slowly come with it."

    Woods said his surgically repaired back, which kept his participation in doubt until Wednesday, felt "a little bit stiff," and he skipped his typical post-round practice session for treatment.

  • Defending champion Jason Dufner, suffering from a neck injury and struggling just to swing a club, pulled out after making a triple-bogey 8 on No. 10. "There's no point to be out there hacking it around," he said. Asked when he might return to golf, a disconsolate Dufner said, "It could be next month, next year, 2016, but not until I'm healthy."

  • Matt Kuchar (sore back) waited until tee time before deciding he wasn't fit enough to play.

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.

    leader board
    LEADERS
    Lee Westwood 32-33 -- 65 -6
    Kevin Chappell 32-33 -- 65 -6
    Ryan Palmer 34-31 -- 65 -6
    NAMES
    Rory McIlroy 32-34 -- 66 -5
    Phil Mickelson 32-37 -- 69 -2
    Sergio Garcia 36-34 -- 70 -1
    Bubba Watson 33-37 -- 70 -1
    Adam Scott 35-36 -- 71 E
    Tiger Woods 37-37 -- 74 +3