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Tiger roars to lead

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McClatchy Tribune
August 14, 2009
— It wasn’t the kill shot. Tiger Woods saves those for red-shirt Sunday afternoons. But it was, at the very least, a warning shot across the bow, a loud report that got the attention of the rest of the field at the 91st PGA Championship.

“Kind of ominous,” said Rich Beem.


Indeed, it does not bode well for the other 155 fellows hoping to hoist the Wanamaker Trophy.


Woods shot a bogey-free, 5-under-par 67 at the Hazeltine National Golf Club on Thursday, a round that spoke volumes about the command the No. 1 player in the world has over his swing and his game.


“He’s just very efficient,” said Beem, the 2002 PGA champion who was paired with Woods and defending champion Padraig Harrington. “Never looked like he was going to make a bogey. And no big tee shots way right or way left or anything like that. It was easy.”


For Woods, coming off back-to-back victories and seeking his sixth title of the year and his 15th major championship, it was just another day at the office. A good day, to be sure, but not an extraordinary one.


“I played really well today,” he said. “I hit just a bunch of good shots. This round could have been really low. I missed a bunch of putts out there. So it was just a very positive start.”


It was just that, a start. The first of four rounds. And Woods didn’t run away and hide: Harrington shot a 68 and also appears to be on top of his game despite coughing up the lead last week and losing to Woods at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.


“Tiger looks like he’s playing well and looks like he could move away,” Harrington said.


“The key will be, obviously, if he’s moving away to make sure I’m moving with him.”


The record shows Woods is very good when he gets off to this kind of start. He has won the last four majors in which he held the first-round lead (2005 British Open, 2002 U.S. Open, 2000 PGA and 2000 U.S. Open). He also has won all three majors in which he has recorded a bogey-free round.


On Thursday, he hit 12 of 14 fairways, a personal best in a major championship, and birdied three of the four par-5s. He has won 10 of his 14 majors on par-72 courses.


Woods is trying to become just the second player to make a major championship his third (or more) consecutive victory. Byron Nelson won eight straight tournaments in 1945 before also winning the PGA.


Since opening with a 71 at the Buick Open two weeks ago, Woods has played eight competitive rounds in 14 days and has averaged 66.5.


“I had that nice little rest there after the British Open, those two days off,” Woods joked about missing the cut at Turnberry last month. “I have plenty of energy.”


Six players shot 3-under 69s and trailed Woods by just two strokes: Robert Allenby, Matthew Goggin, Hunter Mahan, Alvaro Quiros and former PGA champions Vijay Singh and David Toms. Eight more were grouped at 70.


“You don’t have to be eight ahead after the first round,” Woods said. “You’ve just got to keep plodding along. Major championships are set up so they’re difficult. They beat you into making mistakes. The whole idea is not to make that many mistakes.”


Though Woods made an impression with his first round, Geoff Ogilvy, who shot a 71, wasn’t waving the white towel.


“I assure you, 95 percent of the field doesn’t think, ‘Oh, my God, he’s on top of the leaderboard,’” Ogilvy said. “Maybe some guys do. I don’t. He has a good track record when he gets off to a good start. It would make it all the more special to beat him.”


Among those who will have to make up ground Friday is Phil Mickelson.


“I had a terrible day putting,” Mickelson said. “Just terrible. I haven’t putted this bad in a long time. You cannot win golf tournaments putting like that.”


The long-hitting Quiros, playing behind Woods, reached the green in two shots on the 606-yard 12th hole, which played into the wind.


“I said, ‘That’s got to be the two biggest hits ever in golf,’” Harrington said.


Woods once crushed the ball, too.


His game today is less flashy than it once was, but it is far more efficient, in a Ben Hogan kind of way.


“I just plod my way along,” he said with a smile, “and shoot 67.”


PGA CHAMPIONSHIP AT A GLANCE

Leading: Tiger Woods at 5-under 67.


Just behind: Defending champion Padraig Harrington was a shot back at 68.


Where’s Rich? Rich Beem, who won his only major championship at Hazeltine in 2002, shot a 71.


Tiger’s streak: Woods is trying to win his third straight tournament, and first major championship of the year.


Key statistic: Woods has won the last four majors he had at least a share of the lead after 18 holes.


Noteworthy: The last two times Woods opened bogey-free in a major were the U.S. Open and British Open in 2000. He won them by a combined 23 shots.


Quoteworthy: “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.”—Robert Allenby on Tiger Woods.


TV: 1-7 p.m., TNT (Channel 36 on Janesville cable).



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