Golf: It's Stricker, not Woods, carrying US hopes

Steve Stricker. Photo / AP
Steve Stricker. Photo / AP

Steve Stricker had a shot at history and Tiger Woods made some of his own. Just not the kind he wanted at the PGA Championship.

Stricker missed a 3m birdie putt at his final hole yesterday, just a hair away from becoming the first player to shoot 62 in a major championship. He had no complaints, though, about settling for a 7-under score and the opening-round lead at Atlanta Athletic Club.

"I realised it was for 62 but didn't realise it was for history," Stricker said. "I hit a good putt. It just didn't go in. All in all, a good day."

For Woods, a miserable one. Seemingly spending as much time in water and sand as he did on the green stuff, Woods returned to the major scene with a major thud - a 77 that was his worst round ever at the PGA.

Woods will need a major turnaround just to make the cut.

Stricker showed it was possible to go low by keeping the ball in the fairway. He tore up the tough back nine with a 5-under 30 and played a bogey-free round. It was the 11th time a player has shot 63 in the year's final major, and the 25th time overall.

"I really had no expectations coming into today's round," Stricker, 44, said. "I didn't make too many birdies the first three days during the practice rounds. I got off to a good start, and it kind of got me going."

US Open champion Rory McIlroy got off to a painful start, taking an ill-advised swing at his ball resting against a tree root on the third hole. He let the 7-iron fall from his hands as soon as he struck the ball, and flexed his wrist in obvious pain. He carried on with his wrist taped.

Stricker has never won one of golf's biggest championships - he's 0-for-52 - and the Americans are mired in their longest major drought of the modern era. It's early, but maybe he'll take care of both in the same week.

The Americans haven't won a major since Phil Mickelson triumphed at the 2010 Masters, coming up short at six in a row. During that span, Northern Ireland has captured three championships, South Africa two and Germany one.

Stricker is the highest-ranked American in the world rankings, a spot once controlled by Woods.

Woods knocked two balls in the water and spent enough time in the bunkers to feel like he was on a beach holiday. The result was predictable: Three double bogeys and five bogeys.

He headed to the clubhouse a colossal 14 strokes off the lead.

"I'm not down," Woods said. "I'm really angry right now."

His previous worst round in the PGA was a 75. He hasn't won a major championship since his stirring playoff win at the 2008 US Open.

Woods got off to a strong start with birdies on three of the first five holes, briefly grabbing a share of the lead.

The trouble began at the 15th. Woods went with an iron but it wasn't quite enough, the ball plopping into the pond that runs along the right side of the hole. He went on to make the first of his double bogeys. At the 16th Woods landed in a fairway bunker to the right, knocked his approach into the gallery on the left, flopped it into another bunker and settled for a bogey. He took another double bogey at the brutal 18th after plugging his tee shot in, yes, another bunker. He could only gouge it out, found more sand with his third shot and failed to get up-and-down from there.

His momentum totally stymied by a 2-over 37 at the turn, Woods staggered toward the finish. He started the front side with three more bogeys in the first four holes, then dunked another ball in the water at the sixth to set up his third double bogey.

He closed with an appropriate finish. His approach landed in the bunker in front of the ninth, his blast-out went past the flag, and he missed the par putt.

- AP

- NZ Herald

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