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Kevin Chappell plays bogey-free 66 to share early lead; unsure how he got invite to PGA event

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Kevin Chappell still isn't certain how he got invited to the PGA Championship. He sure made the most of it Thursday.

Chappell and his wife were in a grocery store in Nevada 10 days ago, making plans for how to spend a week off during the final major of the year. That's when his agent forwarded him an email from the PGA of America congratulating him on being part of the field at Valhalla Golf Club.

"I wanted to know how — or why," Chappell said after opening with a 6-under 65 to share the lead with Lee Westwood and Ryan Palmer.

This has been a mediocre year by his standards. His only top-10 finish was at the Colonial (tie for 10th). He was not eligible or did not qualify for any of the majors. The PGA Championship tries to assemble the top 100 players from the world ranking. Chappell was at No. 104.

And he missed the cut at the PGA Championship last year.

"Not having success last year, I didn't expect any favours," he said. "I was grateful for it. All I wanted to do was take advantage of it. But I didn't know how I got in the field until I got here."

Turns out the PGA of America is so determined to get everyone from the top 100 in the world that it left nothing to chance. Chappell was at No. 104 and playing the Barracuda Championship in Nevada last week. With a good finish, he could have squeezed into the top 100 and still not been in the field.

PGA Championship director Kerry Haigh said last week in an email to The Associated Press that Chappell was No. 104 and "it was felt that he, too, was deserving of an invitational to the Championship."

Through various criteria, the PGA wound up with the top 109 players — until it lost Dustin Johnson to a "voluntary leave of absence" and then Matt Kuchar on Thursday to a back injury.

Chappell seized on the invitation he didn't expect.

He hit a hard 8-iron to 6 feet for birdie on the 496-yard second hole — the toughest on the course. He holed a bunker shot from short of the green on the par-5 10th hole.

It was a clean round. The UCLA grad came close to bogey only three times, holing par putts in the 8-foot range.

Chappell still hasn't won on the PGA Tour, though he has a pair of runner-up finishes in his career and he tied for third in the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional, which Rory McIlroy won in a runaway.

Chappell isn't sure what has held him back this year, except for not making enough putts, and he's not alone there.

He was a 14-year-old in Fresno, California, when he watched Tiger Woods beat Bob May in a playoff to win the 2000 PGA at Valhalla. All he remembers is seeing a lot of putts go in that day, which he figured would be a good formula for success. Chappell had only 26 putts in the first round.

As for the 2008 Ryder Cup? He doesn't remember watching that event at Valhalla.

"It must have been when I was in college," he said. "So I was losing some brain cells."

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