Tiger roars again at PGA at Hazeltine

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods tees off on the eighth hole during the first round of the 91st PGA Championship at the Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn., Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Charlie Riedel/AP

Missing the cut shouldn't be a problem for Tiger Woods at this major.

He was better than anyone else at the PGA Championship on Thursday morning, shooting a bogey-free, 5-under 67. He's one stroke ahead of playing partner and defending champ Padraig Harrington, with Phil Mickelson and the winners of the year's first three majors - Angel Cabrera, Lucas Glover and Stewart Cink - playing in the afternoon.

"I feel pretty comfortable if I'm playing well," Woods said. "There are times I've put it together and had some pretty good margins of victory. I just feel that, overall, my game over the years has gotten better. It's become more consistent. When I'm playing well, I usually don't make too many mistakes."

He didn't on this day, breaking 70 in the opening round of a major for the first time since the 2007 British Open. He made birdies on all but one of Hazeltine National's long par 5s and hitting 12 of 14 fairways. His only "flaw" was a few missed putts, including ones for birdie on each of his last two holes.

"It's always nice to get off quick, but the first round - you can play yourself out of a tournament but you certainly cannot win it on the first day," said Woods, who has four Wanamaker Trophys among his 14 major titles.

"You don't have to be eight ahead after the first round, that's not it. You've just got to keep plodding along. ... The whole idea is not to make that many mistakes."

Harrington, who also won the 2007 and '08 British Opens, actually shared the lead with Woods after three birdies in a five-hole span on their back nine. But he settled for par on long No. 7 after his putt from the fringe rolled about two inches past while Woods two-putted from 30 feet for a birdie.

"The first day of a major, it's always good to keep yourself in there. I think I probably did a little bit more than that," Harrington said.

Robert Allenby, whose second-place finish at Bridgestone last weekend was overshadowed by the duel between Woods and Harrington, is at 3 under with Hunter Mahan, Matthew Goggin and Alvaro Quiros.

The early leads could be key if the weather turns foul. It was hot, humid and breezy Thursday, but strong winds are expected Friday. There's a possibility of rain during the weekend.

"Obviously, he's the best in the world so we expect him to win, because he's the best. He should," Allenby said, referring to Woods. "But you know what? It's three more days to go. And a lot can happen."

Especially in this, one of the wackier years for golf. Kenny Perry had the Masters won, then lost it. Bethpage Black did its best imitation of a water park the first two days. Ol' Tom Watson nearly turned back the clock at Turnberry.

Not even Woods has been immune.

The world's No. 1 player has won at least one major in each of the last four years, but he's running out of time this year to keep that streak going. He made a charge Sunday at the Masters, but couldn't hang on. He wasn't much of a factor at the U.S. Open, catching a bad break when his side of the draw was deluged.

Then there was the British.

He was the heavy favorite at Turnberry, arriving fresh off a win at his AT&T National tournament. But he was mediocre on Thursday, shooting 71, and then had a 74 to miss the cut on the line. It was only the second time in his professional career that he'd missed the cut at a major, and the first time at any tournament in more than three years.

But Woods, who won the last two weekends at the Buick Open and Bridgestone, is clearly back on his game.

"I had that nice rest there after the British Open, those two days," he said, drawing laughter.

Much has been made of the supersized Hazeltine, at 7,674 yards the longest course in major championship history. That's 300 yards longer than it was the last time the PGA was here, just seven years ago. Most of the new length comes on the par 5s - three are 600 yards or longer. The thinking is that No. 7, at "only" 572 yards, will be the lone par 5 that players can still reach in two.

For Woods, though, the holes may as well have bull's-eyes on them. On 15 - at 642 yards, the longest hole on the course - he actually knocked his second shot over the green and into a bunker.

He also had a birdie on 12, a 518-yard par 4.

"It's long on the scorecard, but we didn't play it that long," Woods said.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)