In The Rough -July

Reason for Optimism - Woods shots 65

Jason Day got away with it by chipping in for birdie on his way to a 4-under 67 to share the lead with Brandt Snedeker, the second straight week the 22-year-old Australian has been a 36-hole leader in the FedEx Cup playoffs.

"It was a little tougher out there today," Day said. "It wasn't as fun as yesterday, I'll tell you that much."

Snedeker went from the rain showers of Hurricane Earl to breezy conditions in his second round and had a 7-under 64. The wind got stronger throughout the afternoon for Day, who birdied his last two holes to catch Snedeker.

For all the fretting over weather giving half the field a good break, it turned out to be a push. Of the top 18 on the leaderboard, it was evenly split with players who had to cope with rain and who got the worst of the wind.

"I wasn't liking my odds in the draw when I teed off yesterday," Snedeker said. "That being said, I think it's going to end up working out exactly the same. I think these guys in the afternoon are going to have the tough conditions we had yesterday afternoon."

Tiger Woods turned his game around at the right time.

In jeopardy of missing the cut and missing out on the rest of the FedEx Cup playoffs, Woods didn't hit a bad shot through six holes and played bogey-free for the first time in more than a year for a 6-under 65 that left him in the middle of the pack.

Woods, who started in a tie for 87th, moved up to a tie for 29th and was seven shots behind with 36 holes to play.

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Johnson and Day beat up on the course and beat the weather at the Deutsche Bank Championship

Tiger Woods had two bogeys in four holes when the first patch of rain arrived, and it didn't get much better. He had two more bogeys and was in last place until he fought back for a 72, leaving him three shots below the projected cut. If he doesn't make the cut Saturday, Woods will not advance to defend his title next week outside Chicago.

"I'm going to have to shoot something good tomorrow, hopefully move up a little bit," Woods said. "Obviously, get off to a better start than I did today."

Scoring was so ideal that Johnson and Day had a 63 and still only had a one-shot lead -- over eight players. That group included Ryder Cup hopeful Ryan Palmer, Rory McIlroy and Geoff Ogilvy, who had the best score of anyone in the afternoon.

That they finished the first round was a bonus considering the Earl forecast. More surprising was that the wind never arrived, and late starters only had to cope with the nuisance of an occasional shower.

"It had the potential to be the most lopsided draw in history," Ogilvy said, noting that gusts upward of 50 mph were expected. "It was way better than we assumed it was going to be."

The outer bands of Earl began arriving right after Johnson and Day finished. But after a 1½-hour rain delay, there was little more than a breeze along with a few bursts of rain, none long enough that Woods ever put on a rain jacket.

Woods' problem was putting his tee shots into the short grass -- he missed eight of 14 fairways -- and not converting enough putts. He officially entered the BMW Championship next week, a formality, and now has to finish inside the top 70 in the FedEx Cup standings. Woods started the week in 65th place.

Phil Mickelson, with his 10th chance to replace Woods at No. 1 in the world, opened with a 69.

Getting to the third round of the playoffs is not an issue for Johnson. His hopes this week start with the Ryder Cup, knowing that Corey Pavin will announce his four captain's picks on Tuesday in New York.

Most players believe Johnson is in good shape to get one of the picks, and opening with a 63 certainly didn't hurt.

"It would be an honor, and I want to get on that team very, very bad," Johnson said. "But you can justify the case for a number of guys. I'm not concerned about it. I'm going to let things fall where they fall. I feel like if I keep performing decent, then I'll have a pretty good chance."

Defending champion Steve Stricker, who has an outside shot to go to No. 1 in the world this week, was in the group at 65. Matt Kuchar, who won last week at The Barclays and leads the FedEx Cup standings, was in the group at 66.

One thing was clear under a gray sky south of Boston -- the early starters had an advantage. Of the 27 players who shot 66 or better, only seven of those rounds came in the afternoon. Even in conditions that were calm and dry, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway. The tour had to do that in case the first round was not completed Friday and the course became saturated.

Combine that with the shorter tees and accessible pins, and birdies were easy to find.

"There's a lot of deep scores out there," Day said. "It was out there today. Hopefully, this thing can blow through and not hit us too hard. But I'll probably try and put his round behind me and just focus on the next round."

What makes Johnson so appealing as a captain's pick is his short game, and that was evident Friday.

He chipped in from behind the 10th green for birdie on his opening hole, made a 30-foot birdie on the 11th, and his day got even better when he holed a 35-foot birdie on the 17th over a knob on the green. He made two birdies on the par 5s with his wedge game and hit his best shot on the par-3 eighth, a 6-iron to about 6 feet.

"This is probably the easiest this golf course can play," Johnson said. "So I'm not taking anything for granted right now. I'm excited about the remainder of the week."

Woods hit driver more times Friday than he did all last week at Ridgewood, and all but one of his missed fairways were to the left. He had to pitch out sideways on the 15th and scrambled just to make bogey.

He turned it around with consecutive birdies on the 17th and 18th, but lost three good chances on his front nine.

"I just didn't have it today," Woods said. "I wasn't really doing what I was supposed to be doing out there swing-wise, and then wasn't releasing the blade out there and was dragging it a little bit. It was a bad day all round."

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Martin Laird leads by one stroke after day three

Martin Laird suspected that four straight birdies early in the round and no bogeys had put him in the lead Saturday at The Barclays. When he finally glanced at a leaderboard, it gave him quite a jolt.

And it had nothing to do with the size of his three-shot lead.

The board occasionally shows the projected FedExCup standings. Laird, who started these Playoffs at No. 95 and was hopeful of reaching the second round, saw his name at No. 1.

"I didn't think I'd come in here and move that much," Laird said after his 6-under 65. "I caught a glimpse of the projected FedExCup and I got a little shock."

It was a not-so-subtle reminder that winning goes a long way in these Playoffs, and Laird put himself in a great spot. He was at 12-under 201, three shots clear of Dustin Johnson and Jason Day with one round left at Ridgewood Country Club.

A victory for the 27-year-old Scot would move him to No. 1, assuring him a spot in all four majors next year, and making him a serious contender for the $10 million FedExCup payoff.

Tiger Woods also has something at stake Sunday, but it most likely won't be a trophy. After missing only one fairway in each of the first two rounds, Woods hit his opening tee shot off the property and took triple bogey. He couldn't get those three shots back and shot 72, putting him nine shots behind. He needs a steady final round just to advance to the second round next week outside Boston.

For Johnson, who has found nothing but hard luck in the majors this year, it will be his second straight tournament playing in the final group. So much for that hangover from the PGA Championship, where he was penalized two shots on the final hole when he didn't realize he was in a bunker at Whistling Straits, knocking him out of a playoff.

Johnson, struggling with a cold and his swing earlier in the week, began to hit his stride on a sunny day in northern New Jersey. On the 616-yard 13th hole, he blasted a 3-wood to about 15 feet for eagle, and added consecutive birdies a short time later on his way to a 64 that gave him a chance to win.

"I definitely put myself into the hunt," Johnson said. Courtesy of AP, ESPN, and PlayonGolf.com
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It's Days Day

Jason Day makes a late charge with birdies on three of his last five holes and takes a one-shot lead

Day can't get a straight answer from doctors on the mysterious health issues sapping away at his energy. He at least knows exactly where he stands after two rounds of The Barclays.

A tournament that once looked as though it might belong to Tiger Woods shifted late Friday to the hands of the 22-year-old Australian, who showed some of his great promise with three late birdies for a 4-under 67 and a one-shot lead.

Nine players had at least a share of the lead at some point during the second round until Day's late surge. He was at 8-under 134, one shot clear of Kevin Streelman (63) and Vaughn Taylor (70) going into the weekend of the FedEx Cup's first playoff event.

"I just tried to stay as patient as possible, and it just kind of fell in my lap, which was really good," he said.

Woods didn't so much lose his patience as much as his putting stroke. Part of that was playing in the afternoon on greens that became bumpy under foot traffic and a day of blazing sun, as Woods expected.

He wasn't planning on missing a 20-inch par putt on the fifth hole, or failing to make a single birdie on the easier front nine.

"I didn't hit it bad at all," Woods said. "I hit it really good. As I said, I didn't putt really well. I hit it as good as I did yesterday. If I don't make putts, I don't score."

He wound up with a 73, eight shots worse than his opening round.

The good news for the world's No. 1 player -- he will stay atop the world ranking for at least another week after Phil Mickelson missed the cut, and he's still very much in contention. Most times this year, a bad day for Woods meant an early tee time on the weekend.

He still was only four shots behind, and at least takes this with him into the weekend: He has missed only two fairways in two rounds, although he never hit driver one time in the second round.

"You play around here and post good numbers, you'll move up the board," he said. "The guys aren't going to be tearing this place apart."

Streelman sure did.

Two years after narrowly missing a playoff at Ridgewood Country Club, Streelman ran off six birdies in a seven-hole stretch for a 63 that will put him in the final group Saturday. Clearly, this is no ordinary place for him. Streelman's grandparents are buried in a cemetery beyond the seventh hole. His parents live in the area. These are his roots.

"It's like a special home for me, a special place," he said.

Stewart Cink raised his Ryder Cup hopes with a 69 that put him in a group at 6-under 136 with Ryder Cup hopeful Stewart Cink (69), Martin Laird (67) and John Senden, who reached 9 under until he stumbled badly down the stretch, taking a double bogey from the shrubs on the 16th. Senden shot 69.

It was a great start for Laird and Senden -- and yes, even Woods -- as it relates to the FedExCup. Laird and Senden were just inside the top 100 in the standings, knowing that only the top 100 advance to the second round next week outside Boston.

Woods, at No. 112, is virtually assured of making it through to next week.

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Woods 7 birdies - The Barclays

In his first tournament since his divorce, Woods finally looked like the No. 1 player in the world Thursday at The Barclays when he opened with a 6-under 65, his lowest score of the year, to share the lead with Vaughn Taylor. It was his first time leading after any round on the PGA TOUR since THE TOUR Championship presented by Coca-Cola last September.

"It's exciting to hit the ball flush again," Woods said. "It's something I've been missing all year."

He didn't miss much at Ridgewood Country Club. Woods hit all but one fairway and putted for birdie on all but two holes. And while he hit his driver only twice, they were two of his best shots of the day -- including on the 291-yard fifth hole, where his drive landed pin-high and settled 15 feet away.

Was it just a coincidence that his game showed up so soon after his marriage was dissolved?

"I can't really say that's the case," he said. "As far as golf, it was nice to put it together."

Woods and Taylor both played in the morning, when the greens were smooth and the conditions were only breezy. They had a one-shot lead over Adam Scott, Brian Gay and Ryan Palmer. Scott played in the afternoon, where a gust of wind played tricks on him at the final hole and led to bogey.

Scott endured a long day in the pro-am Wednesday and didn't think Ridgewood would serve up a 65 to anyone.

"Seeing some good scores this morning made me change my mind," he said.

That one of those scores belonged to Woods was hardly a surprise.

"For him to piece things together can't be too hard," Scott said. "He's very good."

The last time Woods' was atop the leaderboard after any round of any tournament was when he won the Australian Masters on Nov. 15, less than two weeks after his life caved in on him -- the car crash after Thanksgiving night, details of adultery, five months away from the game and a broken marriage, which officially ended Monday.

His golf hasn't been very good either, which is why Woods began the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup 112th out of 125 players who qualified. He was so low down the list that he was first to tee off under a sunny sky at Ridgewood, the first time he's done that in his PGA TOUR career.

It worked to his advantage.

"With fresh greens, everybody in our group was making putts on the front nine," Woods said. "You had to get it today."

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Field chasing Matt Kuchar

Eiln Nordegren and Tiger Woods issued this joint statement concerning their divorce. Judgment was entered Monday in Bay County (Florida) Circuit Court, and provides for shared parenting of their two children :

We are sad that our marriage is over and we wish each other the very best for the future. While we are no longer married, we are the parents of two wonderful children and their happiness has been, and will always be, of paramount importance to both of us. Once we came to the decision that our marriage was at an end, the primary focus of our amicable discussions has been to ensure their future well-being. The weeks and months ahead will not be easy for them as we adjust to a new family situation, which is why our privacy must be a principal concern.

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Atwal won by a stroke

Atwal won by a stroke Sunday at Sedgefield Country Club, becoming the first Monday qualifier to win on the TOUR in 24 years.

After leading or sharing the lead after each of the first three rounds, Atwal shot a 3-under 67 in the final round. He finished at 20-under 260 and earned $918,000 -- or, more than double the amount he previously earned this year, the reason why his future on TOUR had been in jeopardy.

"I told my caddie, 'We've got nothing to lose this week. Just go out there and try and win it,'" Atwal said. "Guys are going to be out there trying to secure their FedExCup spots or whatever. We've got nothing. I don't have a card. I don't have anything. Just go out there and free-wheel it, and that's what I did this week."

He's the first Indian-born player to win on TOUR and the first to win both the qualifier and the tournament that follows since Fred Wadsworth at the 1986 Southern Open.

David Toms (64) was 19 under. John Mallinger and Michael Sim shot 62s to match John Rollins (65) and Justin Leonard (65) at 18 under.

For a few dizzying moments late in a low-scoring day, seven players shared the lead at 18 under.

Atwal, who carried a three-stroke lead into the final round, was at 19 under for most of the day but bogeyed the par-3 12th a few minutes before Lucas Glover bogeyed 14 and Toms, Rollins and Leonard all birdied No. 16.

"It just kept changing," Atwal said. "Everybody's tied for the lead at a certain point."

Atwal reclaimed the lead with a birdie on No. 14, Leonard birdied No. 17 and Toms birdied No. 18 to join them at 19 under. Leonard dropped back a stroke after running into trouble on 18, while Atwal still had three holes to play -- giving him more than enough chances to settle things himself.

Atwal made his move on the par-3 16th, plopping his tee shot 6 feet from the flagstick and sinking his birdie putt to move to 20 under. He followed that with consecutive pars, sinking a 7-foot putt on No. 18 before dropping his putter and extending his arms upward in jubilation after closing out his first tour victory.

"I was thinking about going to the (driving) range, but when he got to 20 under and they said he had a 15-footer on 17, I just went in the clubhouse and tried to cool off," Toms said. "I was ready to go to the range, if need be, but good for (Atwal). I know it's tough to get that first victory. ... I'm sure that he was battling some nerves, and to pour it in from 6-8 feet on that last hole was pretty impressive."

Glover (67) finished at 17 under, and Webb Simpson (63), Chris Riley (64), Scott Piercy (68) and second-round co-leader Brandt Snedeker (69) were one stroke behind him.

Atwal, who has won on the European, Asian and Nationwide tours, certainly has been through plenty during the past few years.

The player perhaps best known for his practice rounds with Tiger Woods is ineligible for the Playoffs and lost his TOUR card last month because he was too low on the money list when his minor medical exemption ran out. That came after he said he returned too soon following weightlifting injuries to both shoulders.

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Arjun Atwal opened up a three-stroke lead after shooting a 5-under 65 Saturday.

Arjun Atwal built a three-stroke lead Saturday through three rounds of the PGA TOUR's final event before the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup. He shot a 5-under 65 to reach 17-under 193, and he has either led or shared the lead after each of the first three days.

Not bad for someone who lost his TOUR card and had to win a qualifying tournament just to earn a spot at Sedgefield Country Club.

"I'm not your typical Monday qualifier," Atwal said.

Scott McCarron closed his 63 with four consecutive birdies and was at 14 under along with Scott Piercy (64) and Lucas Glover (67). Will MacKenzie (65), Garrett Willis (65), David Toms (65), Justin Leonard (66), John Rollins (68) and second-round co-leader Brandt Snedeker (69) were at 13 under.

Kevin Na matched the tournament record with a 61 in the morning to reach 12 under.

But without question, the story at Sedgefield has been Atwal.

The 37-year-old player from India may be winless on the big TOUR, but he has won on the European, Asian and Nationwide tours. Now he's one good round away from becoming the first Monday qualifier to win the ensuing tournament since Fred Wadsworth at the 1986 Southern Open.

"I've never won on the PGA TOUR, but I've won on almost every other tour I've played on," Atwal said. "And I don't see why it's going to be different trying to win a tournament here. If I'm hitting it well, and I'm playing well (Sunday), I don't see why I can't win."

"I couldn't hit it out of my shadow when I came back," Atwal said. "I just wanted to play, and I thought I'd be OK. ... [Rushing back] was stupid, now that I look at it."

Meanwhile, his playing partner -- Snedeker, the 2007 Wyndham winner -- ran into trouble on that par 5, which has played as one of the easiest this week. He splashed his second shot into the water and finished with just his second bogey of the week.

"It swayed right into the water," Snedeker said. "Unfortunately, that stuff happens in the course of a 72-hole tournament."

Andres Romero, who at No. 123 was squarely on the bubble, took another step toward playing himself into the field at The Barclays next week, shooting a 65 to move to 12 under.

Also five strokes back was Richard S. Johnson, who still has some work to do to claim an unlikely spot in the postseason; he arrived at No. 149 and needs to finish fourth to crack the top 125.

McCarron made a late charge up the leaderboard with birdies on Nos. 15-18, closing his round by making a 20-foot putt that moved him to 14 under. Piercy had a similar bonanza with four straight birdies on Nos. 5-8, then later birdied three of four holes to join him.

"For me, this is a playoff," said McCarron, No. 142 on the points list. "I don't play well, then I'm going home."

For the second time in three days, the Wyndham record round of 61 was reached. This time, it was Na's turn.

Going off in the morning's first pairing after barely making the cut, he took full advantage of the fresh greens with seven birdies through 17 holes and an eagle on No. 5. When he got to the 18th, he took aim at one more birdie.

"Honestly, you know, I wanted the course record," Na said. "I wasn't going to leave it short." Courtesy of AP, ESPN, and PlayonGolf.com
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Atwal leads Wyndham after shooting 61 - Woods enters The Barclays

Arjun Atwal tied a tournament record with a 61 Thursday and took a two-stroke lead at the Wyndham Championship.

Matching Carl Pettersson's 2-year-old mark at the par-70 Sedgefield Country Club course, Atwal was 9 under through the first round of the final event before the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup.

Brandt Snedeker shot a 63. John Rollins, Kevin Streelman, Lucas Glover, Boo Weekley, David Toms and Jeev Milkha Singh were at 64, and six players shot 65s during an occasionally wet day that left Sedgefield's greens soft and its leaderboard crowded.

It was quite the encouraging start for Atwal, who lost his TOUR card last month and had to play his way into this event in a Monday qualifier across town at Forest Oaks Country Club -- where this tournament was held from 1977-2007.

He played that course twice before, finishing sixth in 2004, and wound up shooting a 67 to share first place with three other qualifiers. No Monday qualifier has won a tournament since Fred Wadsworth did it at the 1986 Southern Open.

"You get used to making a lot of birdies in the Monday qualifier -- otherwise you won't make it," Atwal said. "I kind of continued that today."

The loss of his card capped a series of events that began when he injured his shoulders last year while lifting weights. He received a minor medical extension, but when he came up short on the money list following the RBC Canadian Open, he lost his card.

PARAMUS, N.J. -- Tiger Woods is playing the first FedEx Cup playoff event with hopes that it's not his last.

Woods on Thursday officially entered The Barclays, which starts Aug. 26. It's the first of four playoff events that conclude with the Tour Championship and a $10 million prize to the winner of the yearlong FedEx Cup competition.

Woods is No. 108 in the standings, and he is likely to go further down the list depending on what happens this week at the Wyndham Championship. Only the top 125 players are eligible for The Barclays, which will be played at Ridgewood Country Club.

Woods did not play Ridgewood the last time the tournament was held there in 2008. He missed the FedEx Cup playoffs that year while recovering from knee surgery, the only time he did not claim the $10 million prize since the series began in 2007.

Now, the goal is simply to get to as many playoff events as he can.

After The Barclays, only the top 100 are eligible for the second round, the Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston, which ends on Labor Day. That will be the final event before U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin announces his four wild-card picks.

Woods has said he wants to play, and Pavin said that Woods is "high on my list."

Players are grouped at The Barclays based on their FedEx Cup standings, and Pavin is currently at No. 107. However, he said last week he is unlikely to play Ridgewood because of a summer schedule of four majors (three on the Champions Tour) in a five-week stretch.

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Field chasing Matt Kuchar

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. -- Play has resumed at the PGA Championship -- on time.

Half of the field, including Tiger Woods and Bubba Watson, returned to Whistling Straits early Saturday to finish their second rounds and maybe restore some order to the year's final major.

Thick fog delayed the start of play the first two days of the PGA, wreaking havoc on tee times and further muddling what was already a wide-open championship. Only one player in the top 10 has won a major, and one guy's best finish is a win on the Nationwide Tour.

Almost a decade after they finished their illustrious college careers, Matt Kuchar and Bryce Molder are both in prime position to win their first major title heading into the weekend at the PGA Championship. His 69 in the second round left him at 8 under with a one-stroke lead over Nick Watney.

"I'm not sure when I'm going to tee off or when they are going to finish the second round even," Watney said. "So it's a bit strange when usually the cut is being made around this time."

Mickelson still in the hunt through two rounds
Phil Mickelson left Whistling Straits six shots off the lead Friday night, but he’s feeling good about his game and his position. After all, says Golf.com's Gary Van Sickle, last spring he made up seven shots to win the Masters. Jim Furyk made a birdie on his first hole Saturday to get to 4 under. Also at 4 under after a par on his first hole is Watson, whose 68 gave him a share of the clubhouse lead Thursday.

Few are playing Whistling Straits with more ease or confidence than Kuchar. He made only two bogeys in his first two rounds, along with eight birdies and an eagle. He nearly holed out again from the 13th fairway again Friday. He's hit 23 of 28 fairways, and needed only 52 putts.

"I'm very pleased with the way I've been playing," Kuchar said. "I'm putting well, staying out of trouble."

Bryce Molder, Kuchar's teammate at Georgia Tech, is three strokes behind his good friend after shooting 5-under 67. Also at 5 under are Jason Dufner (66), 19-year-old S.Y. Noh (71), big-hitting Dustin Johnson (68), Simon Khan (70), Rory McIlroy (68) and 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson (70).

Phil Mickelson scrambled his way to a 69, putting him at 2 under -- and very much alive in his quest to move to No. 1 in the world for the first time.

After showing signs of the old, masterful Woods in the first round, the unpredictable play that's marked his woeful year was back on display. He scrambled for pars off a cart path, out of grass up to his knees and from a grassy knoll.

When the horn sounded, he'd played six holes and made six pars, keeping him at 1 under.

"Had to hang in there, and did a good job with that," he told a PGA official.

John Daly hurts shoulder, out of PGA

HEBOYGAN, Wis. -- John Daly will not return to finish his second round at the PGA Championship because of a shoulder injury.

Daly notified organizers late Friday that he would not be back Saturday after finishing the par-3 seventh hole. He was 5 over in his second round after opening with a 4-over 76 on Thursday.

Daly said on Twitter that he thinks he hurt himself in a bunker on the first hole and played through "miserable pain." He said he saw a doctor after the round was suspended and tests revealed a torn rotator cuff.

Daly said he would see his doctor on Saturday for an MRI exam: "praying tests show not as bad & all works out," said one of his tweets.

Daly was in a group with Padraig Harrington and Davis Love III.

The 44-year-old Daly won the 1991 PGA Championship, earning a lifetime exemption to the event. He's been cut or withdrawn in 13 of the 17 appearances since his victory, never finishing higher than tied for 32nd.

A five-time winner on the PGA Tour, his best performance this year was a tie for 24th at the Puerto Rico Open.

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Whistling Straits - PGA Championship

The fog delay meant none of the late starters could finish the opening round. "After a quick start, all of sudden I felt I could shoot something in the 60s," Woods said. "Didn't quite happen. I lost a few shots out there."

Bubba Watson and Francesco Molinari of Italy handled the breeze and bunkers after a three-hour fog delay at Whistling Straits to top the PGA Championship leaderboard at 4-under 68 among those who finished the first round.

Tiger Woods had to make an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 1-under 71. Tiger's 71 on Thursday proved his game wasn't lost forever, but major victory No. 15 is a ways off. Woods, 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.

"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."

Tiger Woods is 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.

Woods took a step in that direction.

For the first time all week, he hit a shot without caddie Steve Williams holding the end of a club over his right ear as a reminder to keep his head still. Woods found the first fairway, hit wedge to 12 feet and started with a birdie. Then came another birdie on the par-5 11th, when he two-putted from some 80 feet off the green.

It was the first time in more than a year that Woods had started a tournament with consecutive birdies.

"To shoot something under par, that was the goal today," Woods said. "After a quick start, all of sudden I felt I could shoot something in the 60s. Didn't quite happen. I lost a few shots out there."

One bogey came from a tee shot that missed the fairway by 3 yards and was buried in deep rough. Another came on the par-5 second, when his drive landed close to the lip of a bunker, his next shot sailed with the wind into the gallery and his third stunned him.

"What the hell?" he said to his caddie. "Did you see that ball?"

Ernie Els, desperate to make sure another year doesn't end without a major, played bogey-free through 14 holes and was at 4 under, making a 7-foot par save on the 14th shortly before the horn sounded. Also at 4 under were Matt Kuchar and Nick Watney, 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, was among those who started in the afternoon and had no chance of finishing. In a summer of majors at Pebble Beach and St. Andrews, it only figures that a fog delay would happen in Wisconsin.

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

Of all his birdies, none showed off his power quite like 587-yard fifth hole, the first one on the front 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.

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No Guarantees

U.S. Captain Corey Pavin will make his picks on Sept. 7 at the end of the BMW Championship.

"I would not disrespect any of the players that are potential players on the team, and obviously there was misinterpretation of what I said. "

The identity of the players the two captains are considering to complete their Ryder Cup teams is always a subject of speculation at the PGA Championship.

Pavin on Wednesday denied that Tiger Woods will automatically get one of the squad's four at-large selections if he fails to make the team on points.

This week's PGA Championship at Whistling Straits is the last qualifying event to determine eight team members. Pavin then will select four more players Sept. 7 to fill out the 12-man squad that will take on Europe, Oct. 1-3, at Celtic Manor in Wales.

But the interest has intensified this week with Tiger Woods hovering outside the automatic qualifiers and U.S. Captain Corey Pavin asserting he was misquoted in a TV report that indicated the world No. 1 had already locked up a captain's pick.

During a press conference Wednesday, Pavin reiterated what he had "tweeted" earlier -- that he did not tell GOLF CHANNEL's Jim Gray that Woods would definitely receive one of his four picks should he not qualify on points.

Pavin did say he was "glad" to hear Woods say Tuesday that he would accept a captain's pick. At the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational on SUnday after he finished next-to-last, Woods had appeared less than positive when asked if he even wanted to play in the matches in Wales at Celtic Manor in October.

Gray reported Tuesday evening that Pavin told him he would pick Woods for the Ryder Cup if he didn't make the team on his own at the PGA Championship. He quoted Pavin as saying -- it was not on camera -- "Of course I'm going to. He's the best player in the world."

"Not playing like this, definitely not, not playing like this," he said on Sunday after shooting a 77. "I wouldn't help the team if I'm playing like this. No one would help the team if they're shooting 18-over par."

"There's nobody that's promised any picks right now," said Pavin, who later got into a heated exchange with Golf Channel contributor Jim Gray. Gray had first reported that Pavin, while in the Whistling Straits clubhouse Tuesday, said he had assured Woods a spot. "It would be disrespectful to everybody that's trying to make the team. I've got quite a few people I'm looking at.

Woods currently ranks 10th in the standings and only the top eight at the end of the PGA Championship make the team. Pavin will make his four captain's picks on Sept. 7 after the BMW Championship is over.

"Let's straighten this out right now," Pavin said. "I had a conversation with Jim Gray yesterday just outside the locker room near where we registered and he asked me a few questions and his interpretation of what I said is incorrect.

"There's nobody that's promised any picks right now,” Pavin added. “It would be disrespectful to everybody that's trying to make the team. I've got quite a few people I'm looking at.

"I would not disrespect any of the players that are potential players on the team, and obviously there was a misinterpretation of what I said, and that is an incorrect quote."

According to an article on golfchannel.com, Gray stands by his report. Pavin declined to get into specifics of the conversation saying only that the report was incorrect.

"Let's just keep it as simple as that," Pavin said.

Pavin said he was considering as many as 20 potential players. He said he had spoken with Woods on Wednesday but revealed none of the conversation other than that they talked about their kids and what they might have for dinner that night.

"The conversations I have with all of my players or potential playes are between us," Pavin said.

Courtesy of AP, ESPN, and PlayonGolf.com
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Tiger Woods struggles again on Saturday and sits near the bottom of the pack at the Bridgestone

Ryan Palmer is one of those players who can't walk by a leaderboard without looking. Even with his name at the top, he had to stare at the board a long time to get a feel for what was going on Saturday in the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.

Palmer, who birdied three of his last five holes for a 7-under 63, shared the lead with Sean O'Hair, who had a 64. But with 21 players separated by five shots, all that meant was they would be the last to tee off Sunday.

"It doesn't matter if you're in the lead or one shot back, two shots back. It doesn't matter," O'Hair said. "There's 18 holes of golf left, and in my opinion, there's no leaders. It's just a shootout."

That list didn't include seven-time Firestone champion Tiger Woods. He went through the motions on his way to a 75, finishing another poor round some two hours before the leaders even teed off. Woods was 20 shots behind, in 78th place out of 80 players in this World Golf Championship.

He declined to speak to the media for the second straight day, telling a PGA TOUR official that he drove it terrible, hit his irons terrible and didn't putt well. That would explain his worst score ever at Firestone, and his third straight round over par, having shot par or better every round at this course since 2006.

Phil Mickelson also failed to break par, but he's still in the tournament, and still has a shot to replace Woods at No. 1 in the world.

It was easy to find Mickelson on the South Course, for the gallery was cheering his every move. But he didn't help himself off the tee, often scrambling for par, and he stumbled coming in with two bogeys for a 71.

That dropped him into a tie for 10th, four shots out of the lead. Mickelson would have to finish alone in fourth place to reach No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time in his career.

Palmer and O'Hair were at 9-under 201 going into a final round with big Ryder Cup implications. O'Hair could lock up a spot on the U.S. team with a victory Sunday.

Katsumasa Miyamoto set the pace early with a 62, the low round of the week and one shot off the course record set by Woods in 2000 and Jose Maria Olazabal in 1990.

"Of all the great players that have played here that really haven't posted that score, it's just an honor," Miyamoto said.

Retief Goosen, who had a one-shot lead, made triple bogey on the opening hole and never recovered from a bizarre situation. After chipping just through the green, and chunking a chip on his fourth shot, the ball rolled back into the rough. The grass was thin enough that the ball kept turning in the grass, ever so slowly, over a span of about three minutes.

Tiger Woods' struggles have continued through three rounds at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. Tiger has usually dominated at Firestone Country Club; in fact, this is the first time that Tiger has ever been over par through three rounds at Firestone Country Club: he is currently 11 over. He has made 16 bogeys through three rounds; his previous high at this course was nine. Tiger has only made seven birdies, two lower than his previous low mark at Firestone Country Club.

Sean O'Hair is tied for the lead through three rounds at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational with two bogey-free rounds (rounds 1 and 3). O'Hair becomes the second player in tournament history to play two of the first three rounds without a bogey. In 2003 Chris Riley posted two bogey-free rounds to begin his play; he went on to finish tied for 4th.

Ernie Els leads the field in average scoring on the par-fours through three rounds with a 3.78. In the last 25 years at Firestone Country Club, six other players have averaged a 3.78 or lower on the par-fours through three rounds. Four of those six players have gone on to win. The other two finished second.

Ryan Palmer is beginning to learn how to play with the lead. At the Sony Open in Hawaii earlier this year, Palmer had the third- round lead, the first third-round lead of his career, and held on to win. Seven of the eleven champions of this tournament have had at least a share of the lead through three rounds.

Alex Cejka birdies his last two holes during round three at the Turning Stone Resort Championship to take a two-stroke lead into Sunday's final round.

Courtesy of AP, PGATour.com, ESPN, and PlayonGolf.com
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Phil Mickelson is closing in on No. 1.

Retief Goosen turned bogey into birdie by chipping in from 25 yards off the green at No. 4, sending him on his way to a 4-under 66 that gave him a one-shot lead over Mickelson and Justin Leonard (66) going into the weekend at Firestone.

Looking more inevitable is Phil Mickelson finally supplanting Tiger Woods atop the world ranking.

Even as Goosen led another assault on par in soft conditions, Woods continued to look as ordinary as ever. The seven-time champion at Firestone hit only three fairways and stumbled to a 2-over 72 -- the first time he has ever had consecutive rounds over par at this tournament -- that put him 13 shots out of the lead, and five players removed from last place.

The adventurous double bogey at the 14th hole -- after he drove into the fairway bunker at No. 13 -- was followed by two birdies. Oh, and then there was that man he hit by the cart path at the 17th hole on the way to the first of two clutch par saves.

"That gentleman learned the hazards of following me and walking down in the landing area," said a grinning Mickelson, who carries extra gloves to sign in just such an eventuality.

The standard "Sorry, Phil Mickelson" he hastily scribbled on that white leather may become something of a collector's item come Sunday, too, if the enormously talented lefthander can win the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.

A victory would give Mickelson, who is currently one stroke off the lead held by Retief Goosen, the No. 1 ranking in the world for the first time in his career. In fact, he could finish as low as fourth and still take it over as long as Tiger Woods -- who currently is tied for 72nd -- finishes outside the top 37.

First, though, there is work to do. And capturing his third World Golf Championships title would give the four-time major winner considerable momentum heading into next week's PGA Championship.

"Obviously it would be cool. I'm not going to say it wouldn't," Mickelson said Friday after he finished off the round of 68. "It would be something I would love to do and ultimately be regarded as No. 1 according to the rankings and so forth. And I know that I've got a great opportunity this week.

Courtesy of AP, ESPN, and PlayonGolf.com
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"Only thing I did good today is I kept my patience out there" - Tiger Woods

" Facing the two easiest holes to start his round, he hit tee shots into the trees and made bogeys. On the course where he has won seven times in his last nine appearances, he posted a 4-over 74 for his highest score ever at Firestone Country Club. That put him 10 shots behind Bubba Watson, the largest first-round deficit Tiger Woods has faced since he returned at the Masters.

Bubba Watson carded a 6-under 64 Thursday in his WGC-Bridgestone Invitational debut to build a two-shot lead after Round 1.

And it didn't get any better when he finished Thursday in the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.

As he took the 100-yard walk to the scoring trailer, one spectator called out to Woods, "You're washed up, Tiger. Give it up."

Woods, sporting a goatee but rarely a smile, offered no excuses.

"Only thing I did good today is I kept my patience out there," he said.

It was another example of Woods at war with his game, even on golf courses where he once won with alarming regularity.

He collapsed early in the final round at Pebble Beach, where he had won the U.S. Open by 15 shots the last time it was there. He was never a factor at St. Andrews, where he had won the British Open twice by a combined 13 shots. His dominance is even more defined at Firestone, where he had never shot worse than 72, where he had never finished worse than fifth.

Bubba Watson has had a big year. He’s appeared on the “Ellen Degeneres Show.” He won his first PGA TOUR event at the Travelers Championship.

Watson and Barkley played against O’Neal and Kim in a five-hole alternate shot match. Barkley, who was the subject of another reality show called "The Haney Project," is in the process of switching to left-handed on everything but his putting.

"He told me he’s only been playing for ten days left-handed," Watson said of his Scottsdale neighbor. "So I said, can I have Shaq instead?

After he got over the massive size of the future NBA Hall of Famer, Watson was actually impressed with O’Neal.

Watson made his debut at Firestone by running off four straight birdies on the back nine and making a long putt on the final hole for a 6-under 64 and a two-shot lead over a group that included Masters champion Phil Mickelson and U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell.

"I was impressed about Tiger Woods having seven wins here," Watson said about seeing the South Course for the first time earlier in the week. "But with Tiger's wedge game, and his putter is phenomenal, I can see where he could win."

That was hard to imagine on a muggy, breezy afternoon in northern Ohio.

"Just because I like the golf course doesn't mean I'm going to play well on it," Woods said, who hit only five fairways and took 32 putts. "You still have to execute, and I didn't do that. I did not execute the shots that I wanted to execute, didn't shape the ball the way I wanted to shape it, and certainly did not putt well."

Two drives into the trees. Two shots to get out of a bunker. Putts that really didn't scare the hole. When he rolled in an 8-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole, he turned in two directions and bowed to the gallery.

The course wasn't much of a problem for so many others.

Courtesy of AP, ESPN, and PlayonGolf.com
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"I'm planning on playing my way into the team." - Tiger Woods

"Whether I've had success or not ... it's about placing the golf ball in the right spots around the golf course, and that doesn't change," Woods said. "That didn't change last week, won't change this week, won't change next week."

Despite several attempts to get him to clarify his position Wednesday, Tiger Woods did not say directly that he will play in the Ryder Cup.

"I've been through periods like this before," Woods said. "And just got to keep being patient, keep working, keep building, and keep putting the pieces together, and when they do come, when they do fall into place, that's usually when I will win a few tournaments."

With two events left in the process that determines the eight automatic qualifiers for the United States team, Woods finds himself in the unusual position of ninth, meaning he would need captain Corey Pavin to make him an at-large selection if the picks were made today.

That seems a foregone conclusion, given Woods' No. 1 status in the game and despite his recent struggles on the course.

But when asked Wednesday at Firestone Country Club, site of this week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, if he would accept a captain's invite, Woods said: "I'm planning on playing my way into the team."

What if that doesn't happen? "I'm planning on playing my way into the team."

Told that he was equivocating, Woods repeated, "I'm planning on playing my way into the team."

And yet that doesn't answer the question of whether Woods plans to compete Oct. 1-3 in the biennial competition, held this year at Celtic Manor in Wales -- if he makes the team or is picked.

Woods is 163 points behind eighth-place Dustin Johnson and trails seventh-place Matt Kuchar by 165 points. Players earn one point for every $1,000 earned on the PGA Tour, which is doubled at next week's PGA Championship, the final qualifying event.

"I want him on the team, there's no doubt about it," Pavin said two weeks ago at the Senior Open Championship, where he also noted he planned to meet with Woods on the subject at the PGA. "He's the best player in the world. He's the No. 1 player and he's going to make Team USA better if he's on it."

"I think if I do well this week, I should sew up my spot," Woods said. Woods has played on just one winning U.S. Ryder Cup team, in 1999. He played on losing squads in 1997, 2002, 2004 and 2006. He missed the 2008 U.S. victory at Valhalla due to knee surgery that caused him to skip the second half of the season.

Courtesy of AP, ESPN, and PlayonGolf.com
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