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Tiger & Rose Set Pace at Tour Championship
Tiger Woods and Justin Rose carded 4-under 66s for a share of the 18-hole lead in the $8 million Tour Championship. The PGA Tour event - which features a limited field that includes only by the top-30 players in the FedEx Cup Playoffs points' standings - began Thursday at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
Woods, paired in the first round with world and Cup points' No. 1 Rory McIlroy, carded six birdies and two bogeys. Rose, a 32-year-old Londoner, sported the same numbers on his card.
Woods was steady throughout the round, finding 10 of 14 fairways and needing only 26 putts on East Lake's slick greens. "As a whole, I played well today," he told reporters. "I hit a lot of good shots. Made a few putts out there, but actually I had a couple of good up and downs, which is nice. This golf course was, I think it was probably gettable today. Because it was playing so hot the ball was flying forever."
Rose came to Atlanta ranked 24th in points in the four-tournament FedEx Cup Playoffs, while Woods was second behind McIlroy, who won the past two events - the Deutsche Bank Championship and BMW Championship. Rose liked his opening effort.
"I think 21 of the top 22 players in the world are here this week, so that gets your juices flowing to be able to play in a tournament like this and compete against the best. From the FedEx Cup point of view, it's a position of having nothing to lose, really. Obviously, I'd like to be much higher up the rankings and that's the scenario from last year."
Bill Haas rallied from 25th place entering the Tour Championship last year; after winning at East Lake he also took the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus. Rose is hoping to duplicate that come-from-behind feat in 2012. "Last year I didn't factor in the tournament, and this year maybe being a little bit looser out there is going to help me. I think I've only got this tournament on my mind. A lot of the other guys have two trophies on their minds. So I think I'll steal it if I end up winning both of them. But it will be nice to know. I'm happy for Bill Haas last year."
Tied for third after 67s are Scott Piercy, Bo Van Pelt, Matt Kuchar and Steve Stricker. Van Pelt was 4-under through 16 holes and would have shared the top spot with Woods and Rose but bogeyed the par-4 17th. Despite that blip, Van Pelt was pleased with his play. "I scrambled well," said the 37-year-old native of Indiana. "Normally my ball-striking is usually my strong suit, if you look at my stats. And I hit it really well the first seven holes, then starting on eight I didn't hit the ball well really the whole rest of the day.
"I got the ball up and down five times out of six on the back nine out of the bunker, which, again, is not a great stat for me historically," added Van Pelt, who came into the Tour Championship ranked 13th in points. "So to do that, you're going to have those off days and off nine holes. So I kind of kept my round to go, and luckily I got off to a good start and was able to keep the round together."
Kuchar told the media later that reaching the Tour Championship is one of his goals every season. So far, so good for the Georgia Tech grad. "It was my goal for years to qualify for the Tour Championship, and to have made it the last two years now, three years in a row, is still high on my goals, still awfully proud to be here, excited to be here," said the 34-year-old.
"Still nice to get off to a good start. My first two Tour Championships didn't go quite as nice as I would have liked. Awfully nice to get off to a good start. Didn't hit it that well, didn't drive it that well particularly, but putted fantastic. Really had the putter going," noted Kuchar, who also needed only 26 putts Thursday.
Piercy could have owned the outright lead thanks to six birdies and a bogey through 17 holes, but the 34-year-old Nevadan double-bogeyed the par-3 closing hole. "I started off a little shaky, and ended up getting it going," said Piercy, who entered the Tour Championship ranked 30th and last in FedEx Cup points. "I made three birdies there on the back nine, which really kind of jump start - didn't jump start, but got it going into high gear.
"17 and 18 are some good holes and I made par and kind of messed up on 18. But overall, I'm excited to be here . . . I'm just really excited to be here."
Hunter Mahan, Adam Scott, Robert Garrigus, Zach Johnson and Brandt Snedeker all posted 68s, while right behind them after 69s are Ryan Moore, Jim Furyk, Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and McIlroy.
McIlroy carded three birdies and a pair of bogeys in his 1-under-par outing. After two straight victories the 23-year-old Northern Irishman entered the Tour Championship ranked first in points and is followed by Woods, Nick Watney, Mickelson and Snedeker. Watney was the only player among the top-five points' leaders to not break par; the Sacramento native shot a 75 that included three birdies, five bogeys and a triple on the par-4 fifth to fall into last place in the no-cut tournament.
Other scores included even-par 70s by Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner and Louis Oosthuizen; 71s by Rickie Fowler, Webb Simpson, Carl Pettersson and Luke Donald; 72s by John Senden, Ernie Els and Lee Westwood; and a 74 by John Huh.
For complete scoring details, visit http://www.pgatour.com/r/leaderboard.
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