Woods back in swing to secure early lead

Any suspicions that Tiger Woods would embark on a downward spiral following his recent bad-tempered travails at The Masters were proved to be very foolish indeed in North Carolina yesterday. The world No 1 fired a seven-under-par 65 to open up an early lead in the first round of the Quail Hollow Championship.

Woods looked back to his peerless best in Charlotte as he scooted through his back nine with six birdies and three pars to take a three-shot clubhouse advantage of a group on three-under including Retief Goosen. So much for the swing demons that plagued the 33-year-old during the season's first major three weeks ago and led to him unleashing a volley of vitriol over his coach, Hank Haney.

On the eve of his fifth comeback tournament since his knee reconstruction last summer, Woods maintained that it was business as usual with Haney and sent out a veiled but ominous warning to the rest that he considered himself well ahead of schedule. Here was the evidence. His round contained no bogeys and after negotiating the first nine in one-under he went into overdrive thereafter, tying the course record for the next nine, taking just 30 shots.

As is his way, Woods finished with a fist-pump as he holed a 13-footer on the par-four ninth (his 18th) to fire his seventh birdie of the day at the tournament where he won on his last appearance two years ago. It was Woods' sixth consecutive round in the 60s on the highly-rated layout and sent out a huge statement with the Players Championship looming next week at Sawgrass. There were certainly enough of his rivals in the vicinity to take notice of his dramatic deeds. Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington had late tee-off times while Angel Cabrera, the Argentine hero of Augusta, went round in 70.

* John Daly, playing in his first tournament in four months following his suspension from the American Tour, shot 70 in the first round of the Spanish Open in Girona yesterday. Daly, who has shed more than four stones since having a gastric band fitted, is seven off the lead held by Soren Hansen. The Dane broke the course record with a nine-under par 63.

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