Tiger Makes a Move as Play Resumes

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2006 The TOUR Championship presented by Coca-ColaATLANTA -- Tiger Woods can't remember ever putting on greens so soft and slow on the PGA TOUR. Nor can he recall shooting a 64 at East Lake in the TOUR Championship and still being two shots out of the lead.
 
Woods ran off a string of birdies under heavy clouds Friday morning to finish a rain-delayed first round at the FedExCup finale, leaving him two shots behind the record-tying performance of Tim Clark and in good shape as he tries to wrap up the $10 million prize for capturing the FedExCup.
 
The players were given a short break before starting the second round Friday morning, hopeful of finishing before more rain arrived.
 
That was the last thing East Lake needed, a proud course that played more like a municipal course.
 
'We've never seen it like this,' Woods said.
 
Consider the third hole on Thursday.
 
Woods took a big swing and couldn't figure out which way the ball was going. At first it looked like a fade, but then it turned into a draw before it straightened out at the end and produced a marvelous result.
 
This wasn't a tee shot -- it was his putt.
 
And it's a good thing it found the bottom of the cup for birdie on the third hole, because East Lake was such a pushover that par doesn't mean much in the final playoff event for the FedExCup.
 
Clark showed that with a 62 that tied the course record at East Lake and ultimately gave him a one-shot lead when the first round ended Friday morning. The three-hour storm delay Thursday made the greens even softer and slower.
 
Padraig Harrington, among the 10 who managed to get in all 18 holes, shot a 63.
 
Woods wound up with a 64, although it looked like he might join Clark in the lead when he returned Friday morning with seven holes to play and birdied three of four holes, the exception at No. 13 when he missed a 10-foot putt.
 
With every iron shot came a 'SPLAT' with the ball plugging into the greens. He made a 15-footer at No. 12 to start his day, knocked a wedge to 5 feet on the 14th and got up-and-down from left of the green on the par-5 15th.
 
Steve Stricker, who is trailing Woods in the race to be FedExCup champion, walked off the 15th green with a birdie of his own and asked, 'Does he always putt like this?'
 
Woods took bogey from the fairway bunker on the 17th and settled for a tie for third with John Rollins.
 
The scoring average was 67.5, and only five players failed to break par. A year ago, Retief Goosen worked hard to lead with a 68 after the first round. This year, a 68 was barely middle of the pack.
 
'We've never gone this aggressive at the greens, and this aggressive on the greens,' Woods said.
 
And he rarely has had this much uncertainty over putts, although he had few complaints after his start. He used the third hole Thursday as an example, a 30-foot putt that to him made it look as though he was watching his golf ball on a slalom course.
 
'That putt was bouncing all over the place,' Woods said after finishing 11 holes before darkness suspended the first round until Friday morning. 'It bounced to the right, I thought I missed it. Then it bounced left, I thought I was going to miss it left. And then somehow, it wiggled back to the right up the hill and it went in.'
 
This wasn't what the tour wanted for its so-called 'Super Bowl' to conclude four weeks of the PGA TOUR Playoffs. The field staff, helped by superintendents from neighboring clubs, did a noble job getting the greens in good enough shape to hold a tournament.
 
They were on life support a few weeks ago, then nurtured back to health with some sodding and seeding, then letting the grass grow to help fill in the barren patches. Green sand also was used to fill in some spots around the edges.
 
The guys who were first to tee off felt the greens rolled better than expected, perhaps because they had no footprints.
 
Harrington was in the first group, got his act together after the rain delay, and closed with four straight birdies for a 63. Clark was in the group behind, and his name was atop the leaderboard from the start.
 
He birdied three straight holes to reach 3 under through No. 4, made a terrific par on the par-5 ninth with a 20-foot putt, returned from the rain delay by stuffing a wedge inside a foot on No. 12, then reached 8 under by holing out a chip for eagle on the 15th.
 
Not bad for a guy who wasn't even sure he would be here.
 
Clark was at No. 33 in the playoff standings last week at the BMW Championship when he went 67-67 on the weekend and tied for fifth, earning enough points to get into the top 30 in the FedExCup standings and qualify for the TOUR Championship.
 
'Having a good Sunday round last week, I had a bit of confidence,' Clark said.
 
Defending champion Adam Scott, Hunter Mahan, Mark Calcavecchia and Woody Austin were at 65.
 
The FedExCup and its $10 million prize will come into view a little better on the weekend, although Woods can't argue with the start.
 
The world's No. 1 player is leading the points race coming off his victory last week at the BMW Championship, and a victory at East Lake will give him the FedExCup.
 
The guys chasing him need to find another gear.
 
Stricker, who also can win the FedExCup simply by winning the TOUR Championship, played in the final group with Woods and rallied for a 69. Phil Mickelson also rallied from an early bogey and double bogey, getting to 1 under before the rain delay and returning Friday to make one more birdie for his 68.
 
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