Just when it was starting to appear as if Supermans cape was slightly askew, when the forewarning of the Tune-up Slam would translate into something less than pure dominance, Tiger Woods hits fairways and greens and every putt that matters for a stress-free stroll that added up to a 5-under 67 and a one-stroke lead. He came by it honestly on the longest thing this side of an Alvaro Quiros drive.
They dont hand out the Wanamaker Trophy on Thursday, but the engraver may want to start etching given the world No. 1s performance on a gray, breezy Thursday.
This is not a slight to the assembled millionaires at Hazeltine National, but if a hole in Woods PGA Championship resume exists it is a sometimes scruffy opening effort.
In his four PGA Championship victories, Woods has held the Day 1 lead just once (2000) and was no better than 11th in his other three victory laps. In 11 PGAs, his opening-round scoring average is 70.9, more than a stroke higher than his second- and third-round averages and well more than his final loops (70.27).
Just keep yourself around, you dont have to be eight ahead after the first round, thats not it, said Woods, who picked apart the Minnesota marshmallow by hitting 12 fairways, 15 greens in regulation and 29 putts. Just keep plodding along because major championships are set up so theyre difficult. They beat you into making mistakes.
Not that it really matters to Woods. Like his athletically dominant equal Lance Armstrong, he cares little about yellow jerseys after the first stage.
And as impressive as his record is when spotted the odd stroke, hes not automatic. He led after Day 1 at the 1998 PGA following an opening 66 only to fade with rounds of 72-70-71 and is 4-for-6 in majors after holding the first-round lead and 13-for-24 in his Tour career.
But those are the exceptions to the rule, particularly when hes churning out seemingly generic gems like he did on Thursday. The closest he came to a bogey was a 6 footer at the first hole (his tenth hole of the day) that he calmly holed much like he did at the fifth for par from 4 feet and 3 feet for birdie and the outright lead at the seventh.
All of which begs the question, when 4 and 5 footers dont register concern what is left to rock the boat? Missed fairways, an often trotted out critique of Woods game? He hit a little more than half of Firestones table tops last week and didnt seem to have much trouble hauling in Tour tilt No. 70.
Its just how efficient he was today, said Rich Beem, the third member of Thursdays box office smash three-ball. There was nothing crazy. He never looked like he would make a bogey. It was easy.
At 7,674 yards Hazeltine National was dubbed a bombers paradise and the Robert Trent Jones layout stayed on topic on Thursday with a leaderboard straight out of a bomb-and-gouge casting call. Just behind Woods and Padraig Harrington is Robert Allenby (43rd on Tour in driving distance) Hunter Mahan (33rd), Quiros (who stunned Woods with a driver-driver combo to reach the unreachable 11th green in two shots) and . . . well, Goydos.
Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 Lakes, 5,000 iHops, or so it seems, and 155 of the worlds best players left putting into the grain.
Its kind of ominous. Hes got a pretty good track record (when leading), Beem said.
There was a light that peaked through the clouds and onto the rolling farm country, however. The PGA Championship is not over, Harrington will make sure of that.
After clearing up the final piece of his swing reconstruction on Sunday at Turnberry with swing coach Bob Torrance, the Irishman didnt seem put out at all by his unsightly finish at Firestone and Thursday at Hazeltine National quickly became Paddy vs. Woods Part Deux, sans the stopwatch.
I asked (Harrington) if he was bothered when Tiger caught him after seven holes (on Sunday at Firestone)? said Dr. Bob Rotella, Harringtons sports psychologist. He said, Bothered? No. I loved the way I was playing.
Almost as much as he loves going head-to-head with Woods, who has an affinity for Harringtons work ethic and dedication to improvement.
If youre playing with Tiger Woods youre doing well, said Harrington, alone in second place after a 68. If you dont want to be in that spot, you shouldnt be playing golf.
More so than any of the antagonist who have challenged Woods over the years, Harrington has the swing and resolve to play with him at his best. Of course, given Woods first-round effort Harrington will need to be at his best to keep this showdown from becoming a one-man show.