Woods atop PGA leaderboard after quick start, but Watson and Molinari finish the day there

By Nancy Armour, AP
Friday, August 13, 2010

Favorite at PGA no clearer after fog-delayed start

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — Looking for ways to kill time during a fog delay that pushed tee times back, Tiger Woods ate a second breakfast.

Then, as the wait dragged on, he ate his third.

“That’s always good,” he said.

The best part? That wasn’t the highlight of his day Thursday.

OK, so shooting 1-under 71, even at the PGA Championship, shouldn’t be that big of a deal for a guy who has held the No. 1 ranking for more than five years. But after the year — not to mention the week — Woods has had, just finishing a round under par is huge.

Woods actually made a brief appearance at the top of the PGA leaderboard after making birdie on three of his first four holes. But he quickly gave way to Bubba Watson and Francesco Molinari, the leaders at 4-under 68, and needed a birdie on his last hole to stay in the red.

The fog delay — a fittingly odd start for the strangest of years — meant that only half of the 156-player field finished the first round before dark.

“I played too good not to shoot under par, and it would have been very disappointing and frustrating to end up at even par as well as I played,” Woods said. “To shoot under par just feels like less than I should have shot for the way I played today, and that’s a good feeling.”

Certainly a better feeling than he had last week, when Woods staggered away from the worst performance of his career. He shot a whopping 18-over 298 and beat only one player in the 80-man field — and that was at Firestone, a course where he’s won seven times.

“That’s the way it goes,” Woods said. “Everyone has bad weeks.”

If only it were just a week.

Woods’ personal life has been in shambles for nine months following the revelations of his rampant infidelities, and it’s spilled over onto the course. He hasn’t won all season, and his struggles have emboldened his fellow players. While Phil Mickelson claimed his third green jacket, little-known Graeme McDowell won the U.S. Open, and even lesser-known Louis Oosthuizen hoisted the claret jug.

“You just look at the leaderboard, there’s a lot of different flavor up there,” said Jason Day, part of the group that’s a stroke behind Watson and Molinari.

Watson is one of the biggest hitters on the tour, which makes him a perfect match for the soft conditions at Whistling Straits. On the 587-yard fifth hole, his drive was so monstrous — 445 yards, by his count — that he needed only a lob wedge and an easy two-putt for birdie.

Watson has only one career victory, this year’s Travelers Championship, but you’d never know it by his relaxed attitude. He’s fun-loving by nature, and personal crises — his father is battling cancer, and his wife had a scare of her own at Christmas — have only made him appreciate his life more.

“The win just showed me that we’re onto something, the right thing. Let’s have fun with our lives and let’s have fun with golf,” Watson said. “That whole week, I just never thought about winning. … So this week, I played good again and hopefully I can do a little better on the next three days.”

Molinari missed only two fairways and dropped only one shot on his way to a share of the lead.

Among those who have to come back for an early start Friday is Ernie Els, who was at 4 under after making a 7-foot par save on the 14th just before the horn sounded. Matt Kuchar and Nick Watney are also at 4 under, thanks to eagles. Kuchar made his on his fourth hole, holing out from 124 yards out on the fairway. Watney made his on the par-5 11th, the last hole he played before the horn.

Also still on the course was Mickelson, who has another chance to wrest that No. 1 ranking away from Woods this week. Mickelson has come up short in several other opportunities over the last two months, but he’s off to a decent start at Whistling Straits. He’s at 1 under through the first 11 holes, and will finish Friday morning on the back nine, which averaged more than a half-stroke easier than the front.

“We’ve got a long day (Friday),” said Steve Stricker, also at 1 under after making his lone birdie of the day on 13, his last hole. “If you can get on a roll and keep the momentum going, it can be beneficial. You’ve just got to get some rest and get back at it. I’d rather keep going than sit around like I did today.

“Hopefully the fog doesn’t get us tomorrow.”

Sorry, Strick. The forecast Friday morning calls for dense fog, with showers and storms later in the day. That means Woods could wind up playing far later than his scheduled afternoon tee time.

Instead of three breakfasts, maybe he’ll eat three lunches.

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