The Tour Championship appeared to be a showdown between defending champion Vijay Singh and No. 1 player in the world Tiger Woods. They rank 1-2 on the PGA Tour money list, are the front-runners for Player of the Year honors and played together in Thursday's opening round.
On Thursday, neither really lived up to the match-up. Woods carded a 1-under 70 while Singh, currently tops in the money race, struggled to a 2-over 73.
Woods collected his first birdie of the round at the fourth when he knocked a 4-iron to six feet. He hit an even better 4-iron at the par-5 fifth as his ball stopped three feet from the stick to set up eagle and get Woods into a share of the lead at 3 under par.
Woods, the 1999 Tour Championship winner, parred five holes around the turn but fell apart, starting at No. 11. He missed a 20-footer to save par at the hole and made it back-to-back bogeys at the 12th when he hit a horrible shot out of a greenside bunker.
The five-time winner on tour this season drove through the dog leg at the par-5 13th but hit a nice shot to find a greenside bunker. His blast from the sand came up 35 feet short and his birdie try missed the hole. Woods left himself with four feet for par but that putt drifted left and it was Woods' third consecutive bogey.
Woods rallied with a birdie at the 14th and added a 25-foot birdie putt at the 16th to reach minus-2. Unfortunately, Woods three-putted from 20 feet for bogey at the last to fall into a share of 13th.
Singh never got on track Thursday with three bogeys and a birdie in his first 12 holes. He failed to give himself good looks on the back nine and is tied for 23rd place in the elite 31-man field, reserved for the top players on the money list.
Spoiling the much-anticipated showdown in round one were Howell and Perry. Howell, winless this season but 27th on the money list, mixed a birdie and bogey over his first five holes.
On the back nine, Howell hit a 3-iron to a foot at the 230-yard 13th to go 1 under for the tournament. He reached the green in two at the par-5 13th and two-putted for birdie, then sank a 10-footer to make it three birdies in a row.
Howell, who finished second to Singh last year, took the clubhouse lead at the 18th when he knocked a 9-iron to 39 feet. He canned the birdie putt to take a piece of the first-round lead for the second consecutive week.
'I guess I like Thursdays, I don't know,' said Howell, who tied for 24th last week in Tampa. 'It was a new wind blowing. We played two practice rounds on Tuesday and Wednesday with literally absolutely no wind at all. Today there was a bit of wind blowing and from a different direction. You have to kind of expect that, I think, in the Midwest.'
Perry had by far the steadiest round of the day Thursday. He was the only player in the field to go bogeyless and he tallied his first birdie at the par-5 ninth.
Perry recorded back-to-back birdies at 11 and 12 to go 3 under and had some opportunities to go lower. He missed a four-foot birdie chance at the 15th then failed to convert a 12-footer at No. 17.
On the closing hole, Perry hit his approach to three feet and would not be denied this birdie. He rolled in the putt to match Howell in first place.
Perry was the hottest golfer in the world over the summer with three victories and impressive performances in both the U.S. Open and British Open. He has since fallen down the charts in the race for Player of the Year despite a possible fourth victory on Sunday.
'I'm probably the more feel good story of the year for the over-40 clan and playing so well,' admitted Perry. 'I've done so much more than I ever dreamed I would ever do in one year. It's voted on by the players. It's up to them to vote but it's just a phenomenal year for Kenny Perry.'
Chris DiMarco, Jerry Kelly and Fred Funk are tied for third place at 3-under-par 68. Chris Riley, Robert Allenby, Briny Baird, Justin Leonard, Jonathan Kaye, 2001 U.S. Open winner Retief Goosen and 2001 PGA Champion David Toms share sixth at minus-2.
Ernie Els joined Woods at 1 under par, U.S. Open winner Jim Furyk carded an even-par 71, Master champion Mike Weir shot a 1-over 72 and Davis Love III played poorly on the way to the clubhouse and finished with a 2-over-par 73.