GARY B. GRAVES
AP Sports Writer
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- A midseason break could wind up paying big dividends for Jim Furyk at the PGA Championship.
The 44-year-old Furyk carved out a monthlong sabbatical after his 12th-place tie in the U.S. Open. Second at last year's PGA, he shot a 5-under 66 on Thursday in the first round at Valhalla Golf Club, climbing into a five-way tie for fourth -- a stroke out of the lead.
Furyk started the warm, mostly sunny morning on the back nine alongside Miguel Angel Jimenez and Charl Schwartzel. He birdied the par-3 14th and finished 1 under on that side, then birdied No. 1, ran off five straight pars and closed with three consecutive birdies.
"It's nice to be in a major championship, and throwing up a good number early in the week," said Furyk, who won the 2003 U.S. Open. "Got myself in a good position now."
After his summer break, Furyk's solid run began last month with a fourth-place finish in the British Open. He blew the final-round lead a week later in the Canadian Open and settled for second at Royal Montreal, then tied for 15th last week at Firestone in the World Golf Championship event.
Then again, Furyk led the first and third rounds in this major last year before finishing second to Jason Dufner.
"I'm fresh; mentally, feel pretty good out there," Furyk said. "I guess surprisingly after a month off, there wasn't a ton of golf in that time. I played a little bit; I came out mechanically sound. I hit the ball very well at both the British Open and Canadian Open and really didn't miss a beat."
Furyk, who began the week ranked eighth in the world, has finished fourth or better in four of his past eight events. That included back-to-back runner-up finishes at the Wells Fargo and The Players Championship. His fast start at Valhalla wasn't a surprise because Furyk came into the tournament with nine straight rounds under 70.
Mindful of how the long season can take a physical toll -- a subject that has been discussed a lot this week with Tiger Woods' back issues, and Matt Kuchar and Dufner withdrawing Thursday -- Furyk has made sure his body and mind were up to the demand.
While he's not a power-hitter on the order of Woods, Furyk's game still demands a lot of torque from his body, and he had problems with his neck not that long ago. Yet it's the mental demands that prompted Furyk to take time off.
Missing an entire month of the season was entirely new, and he acknowledged being hesitant about he'd play upon returning. Turns out he hasn't missed a step, and judging from his early play at Valhalla, Furyk seems to have gained another one or two.
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