Woods quick to launch his assault

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The Independent Online

Just when it looked as if a day at a major championship might slip by without Tiger Woods being on the leaderboard, the world No 1 began his quest to win a third major of the year in earnest. Woods was level par for the round through the first six holes when he started a run of five birdies in six holes.

Just when it looked as if a day at a major championship might slip by without Tiger Woods being on the leaderboard, the world No 1 began his quest to win a third major of the year in earnest. Woods was level par for the round through the first six holes when he started a run of five birdies in six holes.

It was an emotional moment when Woods teed off in the 82nd USPGA Championship at Valhalla with Jack Nicklaus, who was introduced as the "greatest player of the century". 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.

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

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 10 feet at the next two and chipped and putted for a fourth birdie in a row at the par-five tenth.

He rolled in another birdie putt from 12 feet at the 12th to put him five under par and only one behind the early clubhouse leader, Scott Dunlap, who scored a 66. Darren Clarke also made a strong start, getting to four under with three to play.

Clarke was not the only British player coached, like Woods, by Butch 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, where he went to university. His father, Jim, scored the quickest goal in Football League history and came to the States when the North American Soccer League was set up.

Fryatt is in his rookie season on the US Tour and has had five top-10 finishes to go along with 10 missed cuts. He qualified from the Nike Tour, the junior circuit, after three years playing in Asia and winning in India, Indonesia and China.

Fryatt qualified for the 1997 US Open at Congressional, but was an alternate here and 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. The last alternate to win the USPGA was John Daly in 1991, when the "Wild Thing" burst on to the scene having been the ninth extra player to make the field.

"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." Fryatt did not drop a shot and made three birdies, at the second and the sixth on the front nine, and then at the par-five last, where he came out the bunker to 12 feet and holed the putt.

"I've put myself in a good position, but there is a long way to go," Fryatt added. "No one is expecting anything of me except myself. If you look after the small goals, like hitting fairways and greens, it will lead to bigger things."

Another of those relieved to have an early tee-time was Jean Van de Velde. The Frenchman was off in the second group of the day and arrived back at the clubhouse shortly after midday. It was already hot and humid by then, but not as much as it got later in the afternoon. "I was lucky with the time," he said. "I was very relieved when I saw the tee-times on Monday."

Van de Velde scored 70, with only two bogeys despite not striking the ball as he would have liked. Or as well as one of his partners, Mark Brown, head professional at the Tom O'Shanter club in Brookville, New York. Brown, who had a 71, is one of 25 club pros in the field, but Van de Velde said: "He struck the ball better than I did but he told me he hardly gets to play. That's pretty depressing."

Since the Open, Van de Velde has been in America, finishing down the field at The International and missing the cut last week at the Buick Open. He hit an eight-iron to four feet for a birdie at the 16th and though he dropped a shot at the 17th, he took two putts from 70 feet from the bottom tier to get back to two under at the last. Philip Price, in his first USPGA, discovered quickly that missing the fairway here is a serious mistake. His poor driving was mainly responsible for a 77.

USPGA CHAMPIONSHIP (Louisville) Early first-round scores (US unless stated): 66 S Dunlap; 69 E Fryatt (GB), F Funk; 70 J Van de Velde (Fr), MA Jimenez (Sp), B Henninger; 71 M Brown, W Grady (Aus), G Kraft; 72 R Damron, A Cabrera (Arg), C Strange, D Toms; 73 S Lowery; 74 J Daly, H Sutton; 75 J Blair III; 76 S Flesch, E Terasa; 77 N Price (Zim), B Tway; 78 S Brady; 79 C Pavin; 80 C Parry (Aus); 81 J Ozaki (Japan).

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