Woods quick to launch his assault

Click to follow
The Independent Online

On the first tee at Valhalla, Jack Nicklaus was introduced as the "best player of the century". But after watching one of the "easiest 66s" he had ever seen Nicklaus paid tribute to the game's current dominant player, Tiger Woods. "He looked like he was going to shoot 60," Nicklaus said. At six under par, Woods shared the lead with fellow American Scott Dunlap on the first day of the 82nd USPGA Championship.

On the first tee at Valhalla, Jack Nicklaus was introduced as the "best player of the century". But after watching one of the "easiest 66s" he had ever seen Nicklaus paid tribute to the game's current dominant player, Tiger Woods. "He looked like he was going to shoot 60," Nicklaus said. At six under par, Woods shared the lead with fellow American Scott Dunlap on the first day of the 82nd USPGA Championship.

Just when it looked as if a day at a major championship might slip by without the world No 1 being on the leaderboard, normal service was resumed. Woods began his quest to win a third major of the year in earnest with a run of five birdies in six holes from the seventh. Two strokes behind the early leaders were Darren Clarke and Davis Love. "I definitely left a few shots out there but I also made some good putts for par," Woods said. "Any time you shoot 66 in a major you have to be happy."

Woods enjoyed playing with Nicklaus, the designer of the Valhalla course, since, for once, another player was the subject of the gallery's attention. Nicklaus's mother, Helen, died on Wednesday but he remained to honour her wish that he played in the tournament he has won five times. He was awarded the PGA's Distinguished Service Award on Wednesday night and broke down several times in his acceptance speech.

"Believe me, I don't want to be here," Nicklaus said, "but I feel she would have wanted me to be here."

Nicklaus, probably playing in the USPGA for the last time, began with a double bogey and went on to score 77. After the round, he went home to Columbus, Ohio, to be with family and friends but will return this morning for the second round.

Just like any other golfer, let alone one who has won 18 majors, Nicklaus was looking forward to playing with Woods in a competitive round. "We have played in practice rounds but before I finished playing, I wanted to play with Tiger in a major," the 60-year-old said. "Whether or not this is my last major, I've had unique experience."

Nicklaus invoked a famous line first said about himself by Bobby Jones. "Tiger is playing a game I am not familiar with," he said. "Mind you, I'm not playing a game I'm familiar with."

There was not much chat about the golf. "When you are trying to figure out how he hits it 350 yards down the fairway, you don't ask him," Nicklaus said. "And he doesn't ask me how I hit it 230 yards in the rough."

The Bear added: "It was a pleasure to watch Tiger play alongside him for the first time. The focus he has, the shots he hits, what he is trying to do, I thought was terrific. His fundamentals are so good. It is hard to find a flaw. He plays within himself and doesn't do anything he can't do. I don't know if my skills were that good. If they were at one time, I can see why people would say I was hard to beat."

A victory for Woods would match Ben Hogan's 1953 feat of winning three majors in the same year and he made a statement of intent by almost holing an eagle putt at the seventh. He then holed from 15 feet and 12 feet at the next two and chipped and putted for a fourth birdie in a row at the par-five 10th.

He rolled in another birdie putt from 12 feet at the 12th but his best putt came at the 17th, where he holed a double-breaker from 20 feet for a par. He routinely got up and down from the bunker at the front of the 18th green, hitting the flag with his recovery.

Clarke also made a birdie from the bunker at 18 in his 68. He birdied all the par-fives and, following the advice of his coach, Butch Harmon, who also teaches Woods, to play for the middle of the greens on the other holes. "The pins were difficult but I don't always follow Butch's advice," Clarke said.

Clarke was not the only British player coached by Harmon to be on the leaderboard. There was a 69 from Ed Fryatt, the 29-year-old born in Rochdale, who has spent most of his life in Las Vegas, were he went to university. His father, Jim, scored the quickest goal in Football League history and came to the States for the North American Soccer League.

An alternate, Fryatt only knew he was in the tournament when Steve Elkington withdrew on Monday after undergoing the same hip surgery that forced Greg Norman to miss the Open. "I was always optimistic I could do well here," Fryatt said. "I had a good session with Butch yesterday and some good things happened out there."

Leaderboard

66 Scott Dunlap, Tiger Woods 68 Darren Clarke (Britain), Davis Love III 69 Edward Fryatt, Fred Funk 70 Brian Henninger, Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spain), Phil Mickelson, Jean Van de Velde (France) 71 Mark Brown, Greg Chalmers (Australia), Wayne Grady (Australia), Greg Kraft, Mark OÿMeara

Comments