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Woods leaps to forefront

Fri., Aug. 14, 2009

CHASKA, Minn. – The first round of the 91st PGA Championship ended with 155 of the world’s best golfers doing what they did last week in Ohio, the week before in Michigan and all over the world for most of the past 13 seasons.

They’re … chasing Tiger.

Tiger Woods shot a bogey-free, 5-under-par 67 while hitting 12 of 14 fairways, 15 greens and taking just 29 putts at a fairly soft and vulnerable Hazeltine National course that surrendered 26 subpar rounds on Thursday.

“It never even looked like he was going to come close to making a bogey,” said Rich Beem, one of Woods’ playing partners and the 2002 PGA Championship winner at Hazeltine. “It looked easy for him.”

Padraig Harrington, who also played with Woods four days after losing to him in a final-round duel at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, is one behind at 68. Six players are two back at 3-under 69, including major winners David Toms and Vijay Singh, and Robert Allenby, who tied for second behind Woods last week.

“If he wins, he wins; fantastic,” Allenby said. “He’s the best in the world. But there’s a long way to go, and there’s a lot of good golfers behind him.”

Woods rebounded from missing the cut at last month’s British Open by breaking 70 in the first round of a major for the first time since the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie. It also gave him his seventh first-round lead in a major.

And, by the way, he’s won four of the first six.

“It was a really good round today,” Woods said.

Woods birdied three of the four par-5s. He sank a 30-foot putt on No. 3, two-putted from 30 feet on No. 7 and tapped in for birdie at No. 15, which was playing 651 yards, 9 longer than its listed length. Woods also made 20-foot birdie putts at No. 2 and No. 12.

The only time he came close to a bogey was when he made a 10-foot par putt on the 18th hole, his ninth hole of the day.

The wind picked up and the greens got bumpier as the day wore on. Today, the weather is supposed to take a turn for the worse with 91-degree heat and winds of 15-25 mph with gusts up to 30.

“This course is tough enough on its own,” Allenby said. “If we get 30-mph wind, it will get pretty tricky around here.”

Harrington, who until last week didn’t have a top-10 finish since winning last year’s PGA Championship, said he relishes the opportunity to play with Woods, even if it means having to chase him.

“I think it pushes you. You have to go to a new level,” Harrington said. “That’s what I like. … You have to go for it, and Tiger brings that out. If you don’t want to be in that spot, you shouldn’t be playing golf.”



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