Friday, August 14, 2009
Sports NewsMayfield's Mutterings: A season of potential

Tiger Woods without a blemish in leading PGA

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[August 14, 2009]  CHASKA, Minn. (AP) -- Excitement is overrated when Tiger Woods plays like this.

Let Alvaro Quiros wow the crowd at the PGA Championship with a monster drive. Or Vijay Singh impress by shaping a shot around a tree and into the sun, not realizing it stopped an inch or two from the hole.

Seven years ago, a younger Woods thrilled everyone at Hazeltine National with a shot from a fairway bunker he called one of his best ever.

No need for dramatics this time around. He merely plodded -- his word -- his way around the course Thursday, right into a one-stroke lead over defending champion Padraig Harrington that seems about 10 times bigger.

Woods shot a 5-under 67, missing just two fairways and three greens. His round was blemish-free, only the third time he's opened a major without a bogey. The other two were at the U.S and British Opens in 2000, where he just happened to win by a combined 23 shots.

"You don't have to be eight ahead after the first round," Woods said. "The whole idea is not to make that many mistakes. All the majors that I've won, I made very few mistakes for the week."


The rest of the field might want to consider itself warned.

Or not.

Woods' record when he has at least a share of the lead through 18 holes is only 13-11 on the PGA Tour, including 4-2 in the majors. And a few of the guys right behind him have been here before.

Harrington, who has two claret jugs along with last year's Wanamaker Trophy, stayed with Woods through the steamy, breezy morning until a bunker shot on the par-5 seventh was too strong and he had to settle for par. Singh and David Toms, also past PGA champions, both shot 69 while playing in the afternoon, and should have the best conditions of the day Friday, when the wind was expected to howl.

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

Still, even if there were no concession speeches from the rest of the field, they know it will be an uphill battle.

"He's human," said Robert Allenby, who is tied with Singh, Toms and three others at 3 under. "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 isn't counting his 15th major win -- and first this year -- quite yet, either. And he isn't the same guy who was tossing clubs, cursing and searching the course for a lost ball at last month's British Open, where he missed the cut in a major for only the second time in his professional career.

He's won the last two weekends, including a tantalizing duel with Harrington at Firestone, and his game appears to get better each time he steps on the course.

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Not even the supersized Hazeltine -- it played at 7,660 yards despite some tees being moved up because of the wind -- could get in his way. He picked up three birdies on the par 5s, including a 3-wood to a back bunker on 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 had a chance to expand his lead with birdie putts of 12 and 15 feet on the last two holes, but they burned the lip of the cup.

"Years ago, he had probably more flair in his game," Harrington said. "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."

So much so that he chuckled when Quiros had what might be the shot of the tournament.

The Spaniard hit driver off the deck on the 606-yard 11th hole -- into the wind -- and it ran onto the green while Woods, Harrington and Rich Beem were still putting. Woods looked back at Quiros and smiled, giving him a thumbs-up.

"That's just stupid long," Woods said, grinning. "To hit it that far into the wind is phenomenal. It's just absolutely phenomenal."

Asked if he was jealous, Woods laughed.

"I used to be able to move the ball. Not anymore," he said. "I just plod my way around, shoot 67."

One man's plodding is almost everyone else's perfection.

[Associated Press; By NANCY ARMOUR]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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