Woods back in individual groove with record 63

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The Independent Online

Rarely has the prosecution been so willingly assisted by the defence. Tiger Woods had an eagle at the last here yesterday for a 63 to post a course record and take a one-shot lead in the Amex Championship. And so a million verdicts were delivered - "See, can't play in a team event, can play in an individual event."

In truth, though, that is what is known in golf circles as a pile of ground under repair. Woods reiterated, "I played pretty darn good at the Ryder Cup", and as the leading American scorer with three points, came to Watford rightfully confident of extending his winning streak in strokeplay tournaments to six.

But then, when you are playing in an individual World Golf Championship event and have won nine of the 14 you have entered you have every excuse to feel up for it. Especially if you do what Woods did on the 18th.

Having streaked through the first nine in 29 shots - "59" was the inevitable whisper - Woods slowed somewhat coming in and seemed destined to finish alongside Ian Poulter and Padraig Harrington on seven-under. But after crunching a driver 306 yards, he summoned new levels of crunchability to hit his three-wood "270 yards with the wind coming in off the left" to 20 feet.

It was, he admitted, "my shot of the day" and the putt was little more than a formality. "The greens here are absolutely perfect," he said, alluding to how baffling he found them in County Kildare. "Any time they are a little bit slow I always struggle. On faster ones like this I always putt better."

If that does not spell doom for his rivals here, then Stewart Cink's words should. Woods' Ryder Cup team-mate shot a 65 himself, but seemed resigned to playing out for second. "This course should be renamed 'Tiger Woods' - it suits him that much," Cink said and his hero all but concurred. "I see the shots here," said Woods. "And I do get these courses where I feel very comfortable. Like St Andrews."

Everyone knows his record there and could be forgiven for grimacing, although interestingly not Harrington who is ready for whatever. After winning just half a point of five last week, the Irishman arrived north of London "exceptionally tired" and expecting little. "The first couple of birdies caught my interest," Harrington said, confessing to the Dublin hangover. "Without them I would have found it very hard to stay motivated. They kept me going."

David Howell told a similar story, although Sunday's celebrations caused the Englishman pain way beyond a paracetamol's compass. First on the dance floor, last off, Howell forgot all about his bad back. Until the next morning. "Let's just say my body was very tired after Sunday night," he said. "I wasn't in the best of shape on the Monday and had to visit my osteopath to sort my neck out." Thankfully, the bone-cracker cured the body-popper and Howell was in good enough shape - if not quite his best - to fire a 66.

While Woods is his obvious target these next three days, Howell will also be keeping his sights on Paul Casey. His Ryder Cup team-mate and countryman is some £115,000 clear in the race for the Order of Merit but with a £4m purse to be split up between 62 here (everyone really is a winner in WGC land) that is not nearly as much as it sounds. Yesterday, Casey shot a disappointing 74 after his Ryder Cup spectacular. Yes, the K Club did seem an ocean way yesterday.

* Mike Weir will replace Phil Mickelson, who has decided not to compete again this season, in the elite four-man field for the end-of-season PGA Grand Slam of Golf in Hawaii.