Tiger Takes Command at East Lake

By Associated PressSeptember 14, 2007, 4:00 pm
2006 The TOUR Championship presented by Coca-ColaATLANTA -- A stunning six-hole stretch that Tiger Woods played in 7 under par gave him control of the TOUR Championship on Friday. He followed that with nine holes of mediocrity, which gave everyone else a chance.
Tearing apart a defenseless course at East Lake, Woods made five straight birdies and capped off his amazing run with a 70-foot eagle putt on the par-5 ninth hole to make the turn in 28. But he went five holes before his next birdie, and he had to settle for a 7-under 63 that gave him a three-shot lead over Woody Austin.
Woods was at 13-under 127, his best start to a tournament since he was 15-under through 36 holes at Firestone in 2000, which he went on to win by 11 shots.
At least at East Lake, he has some competition.
Austin had his second straight 65 and will play in the final group with Woods, thankful he wasn't too far behind.
'He's not hard to beat if you're playing as well and you're right there,' Austin said. 'But if you let him get in front of you, like I said, he's hard to catch.'
Not hard to beat?
Remember, it was Austin who suggested he outplayed Woods in the second round of the PGA Championship, the day Woods tied a major championship record with 63 and Austin shot 70.
Austin went on to finish second at Southern Hills, and he'll get a chance to play with the world's No. 1 player on Saturday in presumably sunny conditions. Woods and 19 other players had to return Friday morning to complete the first round, and he wound up play 25 holes and finishing in time to beat the rumble of thunder.
Woods' string of birdies, which included a bunker shot he holed from 60 feet on No. 5, filled East Lake with plenty of electricity. But it might have taken all the drama out of the FedExCup finale.
Woods is atop the playoff standings, a victory would give him the cup and the $10 million prize. Steve Stricker, who needs to win to capture the cup, shot 67 and was nine shots behind. Phil Mickelson, who can only claim the FedExCup if he wins the TOUR Championship and Woods finishes worse than second, was seven shots behind after a 66.
Only a half-dozen players were within five shots of Woods, not a good sign considering Woods hasn't lost a 36-hole lead in three years.
Tim Clark followed his record-tying 62 at East Lake with a 69 and in the group at 9-under 131 that included defending champion Adam Scott (66) and Mark Calcavecchia (66). K.J. Choi, still mathematically alive for the FedExCup, had a 65 and moved to 8-under 132 along with Sergio Garcia (64).
Calcavecchia was atop the leaderboard at 9 under with a birdie on the 11th hole when he started hearing big roars on the other side of the golf course, and the video board kept showing Woods stretching the lead.
And what did he think about the 28 on the front?
'I was trying to figure out which holes he parred, actually,' Calcavecchia said. 'First three? He got off to a bad start. He could be in a slump. I noticed he made a bogey. I think he's losing it now.'
Woods did open with three pars, but his approach into 10 feet for birdie on No. 4 changed everything.
From the front left bunker, 60 feet from a hole he couldn't see, Woods' blasted out and the ball bounced three times before dropping into the cup for eagle. The next three birdies were a product of good shots to soft greens, the ball making a 'SPLAT' each time it landed.
And then the hole got in the way again.
He reached the 609-yard ninth hole in two, still 70 feet from the cup, and hammered the eagle putt. When it banged into the back of the cup, all Woods could do was cover his eyes as if to apologize.
'Pure luck,' Woods said. 'If you could have been right behind the golf ball and see how that thing was bouncing all over the place, it was actually quite funny.'
Stricker played a solid front nine and felt outclassed.
'I played pretty good,' he said. 'I was 2 under and I'm 5 down. You just start thinking, 'Jeepers, what just happened?' He's got a lot of offense, if you know what I mean. You're just waiting for that run of holes, and then he takes off.'
Stricker told caddie Tom Mitchell on the 10th tee that they might be witness to a 59, only it never crossed Woods' mind. He didn't even know he had shot a 28 on the front until he signed his card.
'You just play shot for shot,' Woods said. 'You place the golf ball and you don't worry about anything else. I didn't know I shot 7 under on the front nine. I don't know if it's a zone or not. I just felt that the rhythm was good.'
The swing was pretty good, too.
Those thinking about a 59 must have given up when Woods made par on the 10th and 11th, and hit the slope of a bunker on his approach from the rough on No. 12, leading to a bogey. He finished with an 18-foot birdie that gave him a three-shot cushion over Austin.
Woods has never lost a PGA TOUR event when leading by more than one shot going into the final round, although he still has one more round for that streak to be activated. He is 29-6 with a 36-hole lead, last losing from that position at the 2004 Byron Nelson.
The way he was going, the TOUR Championship could have effectively ended before the weekend.
'Luckily for all of us, he kind of slowed down a little bit and kept a tournament of it,' Scott said.
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