Woods eases ahead in duel

World No 1 gets better of playing partner Harrington to set early pace in USPGA
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The Independent Online

On the day golf all but regained its status as an Olympic sport the two pros with the golden touch in majors once again showed their standards to be "higher" and their games to be "stronger" than their rivals.

However, as far as Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington are concerned right now, the "swifter" bit remains a moot point.

It took them more than five hours to complete their first round at the USPGA yesterday, although, to be fair, that was par around this eye-straining, 7,600-yard layout. However there was nothing average about their scores. Woods' 67 and Harrington's 68 were, respectively, their best opening rounds in a major this year and at five-under and four-under the playing partners were setting the early pace. It was cool and calculating stuff; so different from the last time they were in action.

That was in Akron last Sunday when Woods became embroiled in a furious slow-play row with the European Tour's chief referee, who he accused of causing Harrington to take the triple-bogey which effectively handed Woods the title.

Perhaps the WGC-Bridgestone Invitation was just the hors d'oeuvre for this, the main Woods-Harrington showdown. When they shook hands on the last green and flashed each other a knowing smile they both appeared to be in their element. Four days of this is just what golf needs, although Harrington promises it will become even more intense. "Today was a lot more easy going than last Sunday," said the defending champion. "We were a lot more relaxed and we chatted away. Sunday is business day. Thursday is 'let's get into the tournament' day."

In all probability, Harrington will need to be at his very best to stick with Woods, as the world No 1 tries to avoid his first blank major year since 2004. Harrington claims to be inspired not intimidated. "Playing with Tiger pushes you," he said. "You have to go to a new level. You have to go for your shots if you want to compete."

He isn't wrong there. While the stats are daunting enough – Woods has gone on to win seven of the previous 11 majors in which he broke 70 in the first round – the physical evidence is perhaps more overwhelming. For this was vintage Tiger.

Woods missed one fairway and when he did misfire, on the 18th hole (his ninth), he enacted his old trick of holing from 10 feet for a par. "This round could have been really, really low," said Woods, who left two on the lip. "I missed some putts out there. It was a very positive start." The impostor who missed the cut at Turnberry, just three weeks ago, had been forgotten. The real Tiger Woods was back.

As was the real Padraig Harrington. The three-time major winner did have a bogey, on the first (his 10th), but otherwise it was a clinical performance which could only have been diminished in comparison to Woods. Harrington is also unrecognisable from the golfer who was struggling so badly just a few weeks ago. He is now not stressing about his radical swing change and, as he says, his mind is free to concentrate on scoring.

Certainly around this, the longest layout in major history, the players require every last cell of their mental focus. Being able to belt the ball absurd distances helps as well. While Woods and Harrington are suitably power-packed, Alvaro Quiros must have graphite in those arms. The Spaniard is widely acknowledged as the longest in the game and if any more proof was required he provided it in stunning fashion on the 606-yard par-five 11th. Like everyone else, it took Woods and Harrington three shots to reach the green, but when they eventually arrived there and were putting, a ball trundled on to the surface.

It belonged to Quiros, who had used two drivers to get up in two. Woods looked behind and just laughed, while Harrington shook his head in amazement. "Alvaro apologised," Woods later revealed. "I told him, 'Nothing to apologise for. That's a hell of a shot'."

Quiros eventually signed for a 69. From a British perspective, the day started badly when Paul Casey, the world No 3, finally bowed to the inevitable and withdrew because of his rib injury. His absence left Lee Westwood as the best ranked Briton in the field and the 36-year-old was just about satisfied with his two-under 70. With Woods in this form, however, satisfied will not be good enough.

Hazeltine scores: Selected first round

(Par 72, US unless stated)

67 T Woods

68 P Harrington (Irl)

69 R Allenby (Aus), M Goggin (Aus), H Mahan, A Quiros (Sp)

70 P Goydos, T Jaidee (Thai), G McDowell (NIrl), L Westwood (Eng), M Bradley, GF Castaño

71 H Fujita (Japan), R McIlroy (NIrl), B Van Pelt, S Garcia (Sp), R Beem, A Hansen (Den)

72 K Dicciani, DJ Trahan, C Wi (S Kor), S Hebert, C Pettersson (Swe), N Green (Aus), D Johnson, T Lehman, M Miles, S Hansen (Den), L Oosthuizen (SA), J Merrick, B Tway

73 R Fisher (Eng), J Mallinger, J Furyk, M Kaymer (Ger), H Stenson (Swe), R Sterne (SA), J Rose (Eng), C Villegas (Col), M Sim (Aus), W Austin, K Duke, J Rollins

74 P Perez, R Pampling (Aus), S Appleby (Aus), K Perry, R Sabbatini (SA), C Wood (Eng), C Campbell, P Hanson (Swe), M Brooks, F Couples, Z Johnson, S O'Hair, B Weekley, M Weir (Can), F Molinari (It), O Wilson (Eng), M Allen, M Sheftic, T Weinhart

75 R Green (Aus), S Katayama (Japan), C Thomas, N Watney, D Smail (NZ), B Snedeker, T Lancaster

76 B Baird, P Marksaeng (Thai), T Petrovic, JB Holmes, S Micheel, A Baddeley (Aus), K Streelman, B Davis (Eng), R Imada (Japan)

77 S Verplank, M Kuchar, C Howel III

78 C Beckman, M Small, A Wall (Eng), B Gay, B Quigley, D Clarke (NIrl), J Daly

80 N Dougherty (Eng), M Campbell (NZ)