Tiger Woods yesterday provided the perfect advertisement for the single life when shooting a 65, his best score of the year. Three days after his divorce came through, Woods finally began to look like the world No 1 again when blazing a trail in the first round of The Barclays in New Jersey.
The performance was well-timed for other reasons than simply the necessity of paying the alimony. Woods is currently ranked 112th on the FedEx Cup standings and needs to move up at least 12 places this week if he is to go forward to next week's second event of the play-off series. Furthermore, he needs to show some form to Corey Pavin, the US Ryder Cup captain, who names his four wild cards in 12 days' time.
Woods had fallen so low that he was actually in the first group to tee off at the Ridgewood Country Club yesterday. But he soon distanced himself from the FedEx backmarkers with four birdies in the first seven holes. From there he posted three further birdies to negate the solitary bogey on the 12th. This was much like the Tiger pre-scandal, as he himself acknowledged. "It's exciting to hit the ball flush like this again," said Woods, sharing the clubhouse lead on six-under alongside Vaughn Taylor. "It's something I've been missing all year." The work with Sean Foley, his new "unofficial" coach is plainly paying dividends.
All of which would have been bad news for Colin Montgomerie. The Europe Ryder Cup captain enjoyed his own mini recovery with a one-under 71 at Gleneagles in the first round of the Johnnie Walker Championship. But he was more interested to see how his prospective team members were getting on. Alas the only thing poor Ross McGowan was getting on last night was a plane back home.
The Englishman has been in or around the automatic standings for the past year, but had to admit his Celtic Manor dream had died when withdrawing with a trapped nerve in the shoulder after an opening 77. McGowan had required a top-two finish to leapfrog into the top-nine automatic placings, but his premature exit meant that Francesco Molinari could celebrate becoming only the second Italian to play in the biennial spectacular.
Molinari fired an encouraging 68 and his mood improved still further when told in the clubhouse of his guaranteed spot. Attention will now focus on Montgomerie to see whether he can resist the claims of Francesco's older brother Edoardo for a wild card. The pair won the World Cup last year and in Edoardo's words "would be tough to beat in the foursomes". Edoardo shot a satisfactory 70, but will need to go some if he is to gain the win he thinks he needs to force Montgomerie's hand.
Meanwhile, the race for the last automatic places centres on Simon Dyson and Alvaro Quiros trying to displace Miguel Angel Jimenez. As long as Peter Hanson finishes in the top 43 on Sunday he will be safe and the Swede's 69 showed that should not be a problem for last week's winner. The Spaniard's 70 did not give his rivals much hope, although seeing as they both have to win simply to have a chance, it is pointless for Dyson and Quiros to check the leaderboard until the denouement.
Dyson needs the trophy and Jimenez to come outside the top nine, while Quiros requires the trophy and Jimenez to come outside the top 31. A level-par 72 did not help Quiros's cause, but a 68, which left him two off Richard Finch's lead, set Dyson up for his weekend charge. "That's bloody good to start off like that when he has to win here," said Montgomerie.Reuse content