Tiger without a blemish in leading PGA Championship
August 14, 2009
CHASKA, Minn. – Tiger Woods smiled and gave a thumbs-up sign, although it wasn’t for anything he did at the PGA Championship.
Standing on the green of the 606-yard 11th hole at Hazeltine, he was shocked to see that a player in the group behind him – Alvaro Quiros – had hit his second shot into the wind and onto the green.
“That’s just stupid long, isn’t it?” Woods said. “I used to be able to move the ball – not anymore. I just plod my around, shoot 67.”
That formula worked to near perfection Thursday, when Woods opened with a 5-under 67 to build a one-shot lead over defending champion Padraig Harrington. It was an ideal start in his final chance to win a major this year.
“It was a very positive start,” Woods said. “When I’m playing well, I usually don’t make that many mistakes.”
Woods didn’t do anything sensational. He picked his targets and usually hit them. Only two of his birdies putts were inside 12 feet, on par 5s that he was able to reach in two. He made no bogeys, only the third time he has done that in the first round of a major.
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Mostly, he had no complaints.
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 the 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.
Harrington, who lost a three-shot lead to Woods last week at Firestone, 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.
“He doesn’t look like he couldn’t break 70 out there today,” Harrington said. “Years ago, he had probably more flair in his game. His game is very solid now. Not that he hit all the shots, but I think he’s put a little bit of conservatism on his game. It’s nice, and he’s very much in control of it.”
The intensity from the final round at Firestone 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 through these tree-lined fairways.
Equally impressive was a pair of other past PGA champions – Vijay Singh and David Toms – who were at 69 while playing in the afternoon, and should get the best conditions in the second round. 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 Quiros and Robert Allenby.
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 with birdie putts of 12 and 15 feet on the last two holes that burned the lip.
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 positions.
That was only a bonus.
“Something I’ve always believe 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. Major championship are set up so they’re difficult. They beat you into making mistakes. And the whole idea is not to make many mistakes.”
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. He should. But you know what? It’s three more days to go. And a lot can happen.”
Woods knows better than most that the tournament is far from over. He was atop the leaderboard at consecutive majors in 1998 after the opening round and watched someone else hoist the trophy.
Still, it was a powerful start.
“There’s a lot of guys out here that can hang with him when they’re playing their best,” Rory McIlroy said after a 71. “But the thing is, Tiger plays his best most of the time. And even when he doesn’t play his best, he usually wins.”