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Golf: Woods leads, best start in six years

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Ben

posted on Sep, 29 2006 @ 10:30 PM
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Tiger Woods rarely gets ahead of himself no matter what the score, although he found himself doing just that Friday in the American Express Championship after his best 36-hole start in six years.

Only this had nothing to do with his five-shot lead.

Worn out by playing six tournaments in the last seven weeks, Woods said he found strength from knowing he could take some time off after this World Golf Championship ends.

"It's always nice when you have the light at the end of the tunnel," Woods said Friday.

To everyone else, that light must look like a train coming at them.

The locomotive kept chugging along under cool, gray skies at The Grove, where Woods made a 7-under 64 look routine in building a five-shot lead over Jim Furyk, Stewart Cink and David Howell.

For the second straight day, the signature shot was a fairway metal into the 567-yard 18th hole that set up an eagle and gave him the lead, although some of the details changed. Woods started Friday on the back nine, so this came in the middle of his round. It was a 5-wood from 246 yards that landed softly 10 feet behind the flag. Instead of capping off a great round, it sent him on his way.

"That basically got things started," Woods said.

He made birdie on four of his next six holes. When he finished in a heavy shower, he was at 15-under 127. That's his best score after two days since Woods went 64-61 at Firestone in 2000 at the NEC Invitational. He went on to win that tournament by 11 shots.

Not that Woods thinks this tournament is over.

"I'm off to a good start so far, but again, we're only at the halfway point," Woods said. "With the way the conditions are, and the greens as soft as they are and as smooth as they are, you're going to have to make some birdies. The (winning) score is not going to be 15, so you've got to continue making birdies."

His partner last week at the Ryder Cup made plenty.

Furyk was 7 under through 13 holes until he missed the fairway at No. 6 and could not reach the green from the deep rough. He made his only bogey of the round, finished with three pars and still shot 65 to get into the final group Saturday with a familiar face. Woods and Furyk played all four team matches together at the Ryder Cup, as well as all three practice rounds.

"I wish I would have finished better," Furyk said.

Cink was at 11 under until a bogey on his 17th hole from the rough, and he wound up with a 67. He has momentum from last week, especially the way he trounced Sergio Garcia in singles, and was looking forward to trying to cut into Woods' lead.

But he knows it won't be easy, and proof of that came around the turn.

Cink started slowly and was four shots behind Woods when he found his stride. He hit his tee shot into 3 feet on the par-3 16th, holed a 20-footer from just off the green at No. 17, then made a 12-foot eagle putt on the 18th.

"I finish my front nine birdie-birdie-eagle, and I thought I had gotten myself right back in it. I thought that might get me within one or two shots of the lead," Cink said. "The next time I see a leaderboard, Tiger is at 15 (under). I actually lost ground."

Woods' record on the PGA Tour is 25-6 when he has at least a share of the 36-hole lead, although that's not quite as daunting as his 37-3 record atop the leaderboard going into the final round.

The bigger picture is his PGA Tour winning streak.

Even though Woods lost in the first round of the World Match Play Championship two weeks ago on the European Tour, a victory at the American Express would be his sixth in a row on the PGA Tour, inching closer to the record 11 straight won by Byron Nelson, whose funeral was Friday in Texas.

For some reason the winning streak inspires Cink.

"Every streak has to come to an end, right?" he said as he walked onto the practice range to hone his swing in the fading light north of London. "At some point, he's not going to win. That's why it's called a streak. Because if it never ended, it wouldn't be called a streak. It would be like a beginning and a continuance."

The top three names on the leaderboard were Americans who scored the most points for their losing Ryder Cup team (Scott Verplank also earned two points, and he was at 4-under 138), although Cink tried not to read anything into that.

"All that does is prompt more questions," he said, referring to the notion that Americans are better off playing for themselves.

Holding up Europe's end were Howell (66) and Harrington (69).

Howell went head-to-head to beat Woods in China last year at the HSBC Champions event, although he wasn't facing a five-shot deficit. He is motivated by trying to overtake Paul Casey for the lead in the Order of Merit race in Europe. It helps to find himself in a tie for second, especially coming off an emotional week like the Ryder Cup.

Casey, meanwhile, is in 59th place out of 60 players still remaining.

A small field looked even more exclusive after Woods opened with a 63-64.

Ernie Els, who lives 30 minutes away and played The Grove twice last week, was one shot off the lead early in the round until he stalled, and a birdie on the last hole gave him a 70. He was in the group at 7-under 135, eight shots behind Woods.




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