Westwood, McDowell share early lead in Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (SportsNetwork.com) - Defending champion Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell opened up with matching, 6-under 66s in Thursday's first round and the European Ryder Cup teammates share the early lead at the Maybank Malaysian Open.

Westwood, a 23-time winner on the European Tour, had last won at the 2012 Nordea Masters before hoisting the trophy at this event last year. McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion who has 10 total victories on tour, last won at the Alstom Open de France last season.

Tommy Fleetwood, Danny Chia and Sunghoon Kang all finished the first round at 5-under 67 at Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club and they are tied for third.

Alejandro Canizares, Anders Hansen, Prom Meesawat and Richard Bland are all tied for sixth after shooting 4-under 68s. Stephen Gallacher headlines a group of six players tied for 10th at 3-under 69. He is joined there by Richard Lee, Paul McGinley, Andrew Dodt, Jake Higginbottom and Paul Waring.

Both Westwood and McDowell began their first rounds on the back nine. Westwood started off hot and was able to coast down the stretch. Following a pair of pars on 10 and 11, Westwood drained back-to-back birdies on 12 and 13, putting him into red numbers for the day.

After another pair of pars on 14 and 15, Westwood poured in two more gains on 16 and 17 before closing out the front nine with a par on 18. Westwood made the turn at 4-under.

Heading to the front nine, his back, Westwood carded his fifth birdie on the par-5 third. Three holes later, the 41-year-old Englishman dropped his lone shot of the day with a bogey on six. Westwood atoned for that mistake, however, by finishing strong with birdies on two of his final three holes on seven and nine.

"I putted very nicely and started the ball on line well," Westwood said. "I left a couple short in the middle when I was fooled by the grain, but overall I'm very happy. It's probably the toughest I've ever seen this golf course play."

McDowell had a rather similar round, especially over his final four holes. The 35-year-old Ulsterman started off well with a birdie at No. 10 before rolling in four straight pars from No. 11. McDowell finished off his opening nine with birdies on 15 and 17 to go along with pars on 16 and 18.

Back-to-back pars on one and two had McDowell hitting his stride around the turn. Following a trio of pars from three, McDowell played his final four holes the same way Westwood did, by making a bogey on six and birdies on seven and nine.

"I'm pretty happy, said McDowell. "I hit the ball great today, drove it well and gave myself a lot of looks for birdie. Generally I'm very, very happy with that start. I've liked the way this golf course looks from the start and I enjoyed playing it this morning with good company from the boys. It's a solid start."

Fleetwood was the only player in the top 10 to finish his first round bogey- free. He carded five birdies without a single blemish on his scorecard. Kang made six birdies and one bogey, while Chia made seven birdies, including four in a row from No. 2, to go along with a pair of bogeys on 13 and 14.

NOTES: Westwood ran away with a 7-shot victory at this event last season ... In two events this season, one on the European Tour and one on the PGA Tour, McDowell finished inside the top 10 in both of them ... Waring made a hole-in- one on the par-3 15th ... Danny Willett withdrew from the first round due to a back injury.