Woods resumes 'abnormal' service

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The Independent Online

First Tiger Woods commits that rarest of sins – a three-putt – and then Florida is hit by rain after a day of sunshine. An unusual first round of the WGC CA Championship in some respects, but the scoreboard has a familiarly ominous ring about it. Woods is a couple behind and there remains one overwhelming favourite. If only everything and every player could be so obliging.

For instance, a 75 to lie 75th out of the 79 competitors was not the start Colin Montgomerie wanted or, more to the point, needed. If he is not to miss his second Masters in 16 years he will have to jump at least 71 places in the next three days. Message to the green-jacket maker: that is one set of XL measurements you can rip up. In fact, the said tailor can probably discard those vital statistics for good as at the wrong end of 44, it seems safe to say that Augusta has seen the best of Scotland's finest.

Montgomerie has rarely looked so unlikely, or so unable, to launch anything resembling a charge to the top-four place he requires. His normally reliable driver misbehaved and so did the rest of his game. Monty did rally with two late birdies, but they were mere face-savers. Not that his face was ever going to be saved from the scowl that spread from ear to ear.

If one hole summed up his afternoon it was the par-three 13th (his fourth hole) when he flew the green, not to mention the cart path, and came to rest among the trees. Even then, Montgomerie failed to take advantage of an outrageous piece of good fortune that allowed his ball to come to rest between two trunks. A duffed chip and a missed six-footer later and a double-bogey set the tone of his card. So long, partner (as they say in Georgia).

It was time to look up the numbers to the relevant section of the first-round scores and there, tracking the pacesetters on seven-under, Australia's Geoff Ogilvy and Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez, was the familiar leaderboard stalker himself. Four days after his latest triumph at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, abnormal service had been resumed as Woods shoots for his eighth tournament victory in succession. Yes, Woods, as seemingly always, is poised and the rest are trembling.

Actually, Jimenez, aka "The Mechanic", is not the type to shake anywhere, least of all his knees. His 65 was coolly assembled with four birdies in the last five holes. Playing alongside him was young Ross Fisher who, together with fellow Englishman Luke Donald, led the way for the Brit pack with a 68. Not bad for an unassuming lad from Ascot making his debut in the WGC elite. "I feel very privileged to be here but I also know that I have worked very hard to get here," said Fisher, a former ball collector who won a scholarship to learn his trade at Wentworth. "I can pat myself on the back for that but now that I am here I want to win this tournament." Brave words, but the very first hole showed how unfazed he is by hitting a driver 311 yards, a six-iron to five feet from 192 yards and a putt into the cup for an eagle. Nerves, what nerves? Like everyone, however, including the world No 2 Phil Mickelson who also shot a 67, Fisher appears doomed to labour in the shadows of the biggest figure in the game.

"I didn't do anything all that special, just hung in there, took care of the par-fives and made a couple of birdies here and there," said Woods. "Yeah, I'm pissed. You three-putt 18 and you're not going to be real happy." Frightening. He shoots seven birdies and is furious. A different animal playing a different game.