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PGA Championship: Woods trails, but happy to break par

Ernie Els prepared to hit out of a bunker on No. 11 during a bogey-free 14 holes before first-round play was suspended Thursday.
Ernie Els prepared to hit out of a bunker on No. 11 during a bogey-free 14 holes before first-round play was suspended Thursday. AP

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — The fog finally lifted over Whistling Straits and revealed a stunning vista.

Tiger Woods' name was atop the leader board.

Just not for long.

At the end of opening day in the PGA Championship, he wasn't near the names of Bubba Watson and Francesco Molinari, who each opened with a 4-under 68; or Ernie Els, Matt Kuchar and Nick Watney, who also were at 4-under when it became too dark for them to finish the first round.

Woods, who made three birdies inside 12 feet on the opening four holes, had to birdie his final hole just to break par, a 1-under 71. That used to be considered an ordinary start in a major. Considering his recent woes, this was nearly cause for celebration.

"To shoot something under par, that was the goal today," Woods said.

He joined 21 others among the 78 early starters who completed the first round, which was delayed by more than three hours because of fog. After an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole, it was the first time in eight rounds that Woods had broken par, and that included such errant shots as one that went so far left it found a marsh he didn't know was there.

"I've played too good not to shoot under par," Woods said. "It would've been very disappointing and frustrating to end up at even par as well as I played today. To make that putt — to shoot under par — just feels like that's what I should have shot the way I played today. And that's a good feeling."

Since when is shooting 71 a good feeling for a guy with 14 majors? When he's coming off the worst tournament of his career, an 18-over 298 at Firestone to beat only one player in the field, raising questions that ranged from whether this would be his last PGA Tour event of the year in America to whether he belonged in the Ryder Cup.

"Welcome to golf, you know?" Woods said.

The fog delay meant none of the late starters could finish the opening round.

Els, desperate to make sure another year doesn't end without a major, played bogey-free through 14 holes, making a 7-foot par save on the 14th shortly before the horn sounded. Kuchar and Watney joined him at 4-under, courtesy of eagles — Kuchar on the 13th early in his round by holing from the fairway, Watney on the par-5 11th, his last hole of the day.

Phil Mickelson, closer than ever to going to No. 1 in the world, ended a bunker-filled day with back-to-back birdies, the last one a wedge that stopped 2 feet away on the 11th and had him at 1-under.

In a summer of majors at Pebble Beach and St. Andrews, it only figures that a fog delay of just over three hours would be in Wisconsin.

"I had never gotten up at 5:30 for a 12 o'clock tee time," said Charles Howell III, who shot a 69.

The group at 69 also included Ryan Moore, the only player among the early starters to reach 5-under until dropping two shots over his last three holes into the wind. Jason Day of Australia bogeyed his last hole for a 69.

With so much rain on Wednesday and in the week before the PGA, the course that looks like a links played more like a PGA Tour course with soft conditions. It was suited perfectly for Watson, one of the biggest hitters in golf.

Of all his birdies, none showed off his power quite like the 587-yard fifth hole, the first one on the back nine with the wind at this back. Ignoring the bunkers and water to the right, Watson hammered his drive so far — 445 yards by his calculations — that he had only a lob wedge for his second shot and an easy two-putt birdie.

"It makes it a little easier, I guess, when you do that," Watson said of his long game.

Everything feels easier these days for Watson, the southpaw from the Florida Panhandle who has been through some tough times at home. His father is battling cancer, and he had a major scare over the Christmas holidays when told that his wife — who once played professional basketball — had a tumor (it turned out to be an enlarged pituitary gland).

His goal now is to enjoy himself, from the video games at night to the golf he plays during the day, and it led to his first PGA Tour victory two months ago at the Travelers Championship.

Is a major too far behind?

"Any golf tournament I have a chance to win, that's a major," he said. "I don't change the way I do anything. I still hit driver as much as I can, and hopefully chip and get up-and-down and make putts."

He had nine one-putt greens, which works at any tournament.

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