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Published: Friday, 8/14/2009

PGA Championship field chasing Tiger

ASSOCIATED PRESS

CHASKA, Minn. - Tiger Woods was twirling his club, not tossing them at his bag in disgust. Putts that grazed the edge of the hole and caused him so much angst were for birdie, not par or worse.

Woods had no complaints yesterday in the first round of the PGA Championship.

The only concerns might come from the guys chasing him.

Woods played bogey-free at Hazeltine National for a 5-under 67, building a one-shot lead over defending champion Padraig Harrington for an ideal start as he tries to capture a major in his last chance this year.

Not since Carnoustie two years ago has Woods managed to break 70 in the opening round of a major. Not since St. Andrews four years ago has he had the lead to himself after the first round.

More telling was a scorecard without a blemish.

It was only the third time that Woods has opened a major with a bogey-free round - the other two were at the U.S. Open and British Open in 2000, which he won by a combined 23 shots.

"It was a very positive start," Woods said. "When I'm playing well, I usually don't make that many mistakes."

Harrington, who lost a three-shot lead to Woods in the final round at Firestone on Sunday, stayed with him through the steamy, breezy morning until a bunker shot on the par-5 seventh was too strong and he had to settle for par.

The intensity from the final round was missing. Both are experienced enough to know that Thursday at a major is all about position, and they chatted frequently during their five hours at Hazeltine.

Even so, Harrington took notice.

"There's a factor that Tiger is 5-under par and looks like he's playing well and looks like he could move away," Harrington said. "And key will be, obviously is he's moving away, to make sure I'm moving with him. It was tough on Sunday with me getting a three-shot start. I don't want to give him a three-shot start."

Phil Mickelson struggled off the tee and with his short putts in his round of 74.

In the traditional group of major champions this year, Lucas Glover was the only one to break par with a 71. Masters champion Angel Cabrera had a 76, while British Open winner Stewart Cink had two double bogeys in his round of 73.

Woods and Harrington, the winners of the last three PGAs, played in the morning when the greens were relatively smooth and the wind had only just begun to swirl.

Equally impressive was a pair of other past PGA champions - Vijay Singh and David Toms - who were at 69 while playing in the afternoon. Singh hit his best shot around the trees and into the sun, not seeing that it spun back an inch or two from the hole at No. 16.

Others who had a 69 from the morning batch were Robert Allenby and Alvaro Quiros, the big-hitter from Spain who hit driver off the fairway on the 606-yard 11th hole - into a breeze - that bounded onto the green while Woods, Harrington, and Rich Beem were putting.

Woods looked back at Quiros and smiled, giving him a thumbs-up.

"That's just stupid long," Woods said. "It's just absolutely phenomenal. I used to be able to move the ball - not anymore. I just plod my way around, shoot 67."

This wasn't a memorable round, rather an efficient one.

Woods missed only two fairways - he hit driver on six holes - and three greens. He only twice came close to making bogey, on the 18th and first holes, and saved par with 6-foot putts.

He looked nothing like the guy who was slamming clubs and looking for a lost ball at Turnberry last month in the British Open, when he missed the cut in a major for only the second time in his career. Woods had a chance to expand his lead, but he missed birdie putts on the last two holes.

Woods atop the leaderboard can be daunting going into Sunday, not so much after one round.

His record with at least a share of the lead through 18 holes is only 13-11 on the PGA Tour, including 4-2 in the majors. Even so, he has won the last four majors from this position.

"Something I've always believed in is just keep yourself around," Woods said. "You don't have to be eight ahead after the first round. Just got to keep plodding along."

A few tees were moved forward to account for the wind. Even so, Hazeltine played 7,660 yards from the tee to the hole, and Woods made some of his best birdies with long clubs. He opened his scoring with a 3-iron to 20 feet at No. 12 and picked up three birdies on the par 5s, including a 3-wood to a back bunker of the 651-yard 15th, with a breeze at his back.

He took the outright lead on the par-5 seventh with a 349-yard tee shot, followed by a 6-iron to 30 feet.

"He's human," Allenby said. "And the golf course is in front of all of us. And obviously, he's the best in the world, so we expect him to win, because he's the best. But you know what? It's three more days to go."



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