GOLF: Stricker shoots 63 for lead, ties major championship scoring record


Steve Stricker added his name to a rather long list of players
who share the major championship scoring record after touring
Atlanta Athletic Club in just 63 strokes.
By Jeff Shain – The Orlando Sentinel

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Tiger Woods started his round with a birdie for the first time since March. After five holes, he was tied for the PGA Championship lead.

And then the bottom fell out. Hard.

Five bogeys and three double bogeys littered the rest of Woods’ card, sending him to a 7-over-par 77 on Thursday that was his worst opening round in a major championship and leaving him in jeopardy of missing the cut.

“I’m not down. I’m really angry right now,” said Woods, amidst kicking himself for trying to play by feel rather than sticking with the technical swing thoughts that produced three birdies in his first five holes.

“It’s a major championship. It’s time to score, time to play, time to let it go. And it cost me the round.”

Meanwhile, Steve Stricker added his name to a rather long list of players who share the major championship scoring record after touring Atlanta Athletic Club in just 63 strokes. He became the 25th man to post that score in a major, and the 11th to do it at a PGA.

“I came to the course really not expecting too much,” said Stricker, who missed a 15-foot birdie try at his final hole that would have given him the first 62 posted in a major.

“I hadn’t made too many birdies in the three previous practice rounds that I had. I don’t take a lot of stock in those practice rounds, really, but I really felt like I was in trouble coming into this tournament.”

Stricker _ now the top American in the world rankings _ held a two-shot lead over fellow Wisconsin native Jerry Kelly. Shaun Micheel, who won the 2003 PGA at Oak Hill, was another stroke back after an afternoon 66.

U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy appeared he might withdraw early after hitting a tree root on a shot three holes into his round. But after heavy icing and an examination by medical personnel, he soldiered on and carded a surprising even-par 70.

“They said it’s (my) decision,” McIlroy said before being hustled off for an MRI exam. “It’s the last major of the year. I’ve got, what, six or seven months to the Masters? I might as well try and play through the pain.”

The stunner, though, came in Woods’ sudden downfall. Making his second start since a 12-week layoff to heal a sprained left knee and Achilles tendon, his first five holes offered glimpses of the form that won 14 major titles – and the next 13 showing just how far he’s tumbled.

“I thought I was beyond that,” said Woods, whose 20-month winless streak has dropped him to No.30 in the rankings.

Two of his double bogeys were triggered by shots into the water. He also spent plenty of time in the sand, playing those final 13 holes in 10-over.

At day’s end, Woods stood ahead of just 19 players. His score matched that of Jerry Pate, the 57-year-old Champions Tour pro in the field on a special exemption for winning the 1976 U.S. Open at Atlanta AC.

“Those last four (holes) on our front nine got him,” playing partner Davis Love III said of Woods. “It got pretty quiet after that.”

Woods opened positively with a textbook birdie at AAC’s par-4 10th hole, sealed with a 15-foot putt. It marked the first time he had started with a birdie since the final round at Doral, where the TPC Blue Monster’s opening hole is an easy par-5.

An adventurous birdie followed at the par-5 12th hole, then another at No.14 that moved him into a four-way tie for the lead. The thrill lasted only a few minutes, though, when he splashed his tee shot at the par-3 15th into a greenside pond.

That led to double bogey, followed by bogey at No.16, another double at the 18th and back-to-back bogeys immediately after the turn.

Before Thursday, a pair of 76s were the worst scores Woods had posted to open a major championship – at the 2003 Masters, where he eventually tied for 15th, and en route to missing the cut at the 2006 U.S. Open.

A missed cut this week might also signal the end of his PGA Tour season. He came into the week 129th on the FedEx Cup points list, with only the top 125 getting into the four-event “postseason” series that begins in two weeks.

Woods already has said family obligations will keep him from playing next week’s event in Greensboro, so he’ll need at least a top-15 finish at AAC to have any chance at making the FedEx Cup field.

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