Bantering and grinning, Woods leads with 63

Compiled from Times wires
Published September 29, 2006

CHANDLER'S CROSS, England - For a mere $732 at the Grove's posh country spa, you can get five hours of treatment, including warm marine mud, spiritual energy balancing and the resort's very own skin-soothing honey.

Or, if you're Tiger Woods, you might just consider the golf course the spa.

Restored to stroke play, where he throne-sits after two weeks of match play where he lost, loosed on a course Stewart Cink suggested they should go ahead and rename "Tiger Woods," grouped with chum Darren Clarke for 18 holes of needling, grinning and giggling, Woods reveled in the banter.

He shot 8-under 63 for the first-round lead in the American Express Championship.

His 62nd shot prompted gasps as it screamed from the 18th fairway to rest 20 feet left of the cup, precisely as the 3-wood had ordered. His 63rd shot, a putt for eagle, touched off a din.

"There are a few courses that you play for the first time that you say, 'You know what, I just see the shots around the course,' " Woods said. "Those are the golf courses that, even if you're playing poorly going into the event, for some reason things kind of turn around and you play great."

For similar courses, he listed St. Andrews and Firestone, lending fine company to the Grove, whose par-71, 7,106-yard maiden pro-tournament voyage supplied enough cushiness for two 64s (Padraig Harrington, Ian Poulter), two 65s (Cink, Ernie Els), two 66s (including David Howell), six 67s (including Jim Furyk) and five 68s (including Clarke).

During his practice round, Cink noticed several "wide" fairways and 18 "softer" greens.

"It's a perfect golf course for him," Cink said just after suggesting the renaming.

By the time Woods started pursuing his sixth straight PGA Tour title by going out in three pars and six birdies for a 29 at the turn, visions of 59 or 58 stirred in some spectators, if not in Woods.

"No, sorry," he said.

So he strung five pars before his birdie-par-bogey-eagle finish allowed him to set the course record.

"Did I?" he said.

And he played the gamut from grinning to giggling to guffawing.

"It's always fun playing with Darren, no matter what," he said. "We had a great time playing with and against each other at the Ryder Cup, and any time we play practice rounds or we play in competition, we're always needling each other the entire day."

PGA TOUR: D.J. Trahan put himself in position to gain valuable spots on the PGA Tour money list, shooting 7-under 65 in the Southern Farm Bureau Classic to take a two-stroke lead after the first round in Madison, Miss.

Trahan, fighting to retain his full tour card with a top-125 finish on the money list, had eight birdies and a bogey on the Annandale Golf Club course. He entered 142nd with $474,242.

Glen Day, Gabriel Hjertstedt and Nick Watney opened with 67s, and Brad Faxon, Jason Gore, Ted Purdy, Skip Kendall and Mathias Gronberg had 68s. Fred Funk topped a group at 69.

MICKELSON DONE FOR YEAR: Masters champion Phil Mickelson is done playing for the year, the PGA of America announced, saying that Mike Weir would replace him in the Grand Slam of Golf. That event, Nov. 21-22 at Poipu Bay in Hawaii, is for the four major champions of the year. Furyk was the first alternate because Woods won two majors. Els finished second on the alternate list and declined, so the spot went to Weir. Geoff Ogilvy fills out the field.

ROBERTS WITHDRAWS: Champions Tour points and earnings leader Loren Roberts withdrewfrom the Greater Hickory Classic to attend memorial services for Byron Nelson, planned for Friday in Richland Hills, Texas.

MID-AMATEUR CHAMPIONSHIP: Past champions Jon Veneziano and Steve Carter each shot 69 to share a two-shot lead after the first round in Lecanto. Play continues this morning.