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Can they catch Tiger Woods?

He has only a one-shot edge after a 67, but his record as a front-runner is tough to beat.

August 14, 2009|Teddy Greenstein

CHASKA, MINN. — Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington had a good laugh on the 606-yard 11th hole Thursday when they noticed a ball from the group behind them had reached the front edge of the green at Hazeltine National.

"I first thought that someone had chipped his third shot up there," Harrington recalled.

Nope. Alvaro Quiros, the longest hitter on the European Tour, had bombed his second shot to within whispering distance of Woods' group.

"That's just stupid long, isn't it?" Woods said. "To hit it that far into the wind is just phenomenal. I used to be able to move the ball. Not anymore. Now I just plod my way around."

Yeah, poor Tiger. At his advanced age of 33, he was merely good enough to fire a blemish-free, five-under-par 67, good for the lead at the PGA Championship.

Woods is one shot clear of Harrington, the defending champion, two ahead of Quiros and five others, and the world's top-ranked player has a seven-shot advantage over Phil Mickelson, who apparently has not shaken the rust from a six-week, mid-summer layoff.

"It's always nice to get off quick," Woods said. "But you certainly cannot win the golf tournament on the first day. You can play yourself out of it."

Sure you can. But not Woods.

Since 2000, Woods has led four majors after the first round -- and won all of them. The most recent was the 2005 British Open.

Woods famously missed the cut at last month's British Open, and he joked that the experience might have helped him carve up Hazeltine National.

"I had that nice little rest there after the British Open, those two days," he said. "I have plenty of energy."

Woods' energy burst might have come from winning his last two events, the Buick Open and Bridgestone Invitational. He outdueled Harrington down the stretch Sunday at Firestone, and the two were the best players on the golf course again Thursday.

"If you're playing with Tiger Woods, you're doing well," Harrington said. "That's always going to be the case.

"And he's an easy guy to play golf with. He's a perfect gentleman who says, 'Good shot' when it needs to be said. Once you get used to the extra cameras and things like that, it's where you want to be."

Woods, vying for his first major championship of 2009 and 15th of his career, made a 20-foot birdie putt on his third hole of the day, No. 12. He picked up another shot at the 651-yard 15th and kept cruising from there.

His misses didn't hurt him. He hit a self-described "terrible" four-iron approach on No. 1 but got up and down with a flop shot and five-foot par saver.

He reached the 564-yard seventh with a six-iron and left his eagle try four feet short. But he cleaned that up to take the outright lead at five under.

Like seemingly every golfer, Woods wanted more from his round.

"It could have been really low," he said. "I hit a lot of good putts that were skirting the edge and lipping out."

Still, Woods' 67 bodes well in his quest to join Jack Nicklaus and Walter Hagen as the only five-time winners of the PGA. He has broken 70 in the first round of 11 majors, and won seven of them.

"You don't have to be eight ahead after the first round," he said. "You have to keep plodding along. Major championships are set up so difficult, they beat you into making mistakes."

There's that word again, plodding.

If Woods keeps saying it, people eventually might believe him.

--

tgreenstein@tribune.com

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