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Tiger Takes Lead at Bizarre Bridgestone

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AKRON, Ohio (AP) _ Tiger Woods was in the lead at Firestone, about the only thing that didn't look out of place. It was how he got there Friday in the Bridgestone Invitational that left the world's No. 1 player feeling lucky, and his peers wondering why a guy with a load of talent should also be getting all the breaks.

Consider this bizarre sequence on No. 9, the last hole Woods played in his second round of 6-under 64.

He hit a 9-iron so far that it left the golf course, sailing over the green, onto the roof of the clubhouse, into the service entrance and about 20 yards from Warner Road.

Lasers were used to measure the distance from the flag.

The ball he plucked out of the cup wasn't the same ball that he teed up.

And no penalty strokes were involved.

``Pretty unusual,'' said PGA Tour rules official Mike Shea.

``I've certainly never seen or never experienced anything like that,'' Woods said. ``I've never even heard of anything like that.''

All that mattered to Woods was that he was at 9-under 131 and had a one-shot lead over Davis Love III going into the weekend of this $7.5 million World Golf Championship, where he is defending champion.

Woods is a four-time winner at Firestone, and a victory would be his fourth straight on the PGA Tour.

He hit the ball as well as he has all summer.

Too good, in fact, on his final hole.

Woods hit his 3-wood into the right rough and had 167 yards to the hole. He had to get the ball up in the air quickly to get over the trees, which he did, but it jumped out of the grass and seemed like it went forever _ which it did.

Steve Williams, his caddie, estimated it went 212 yards, but this certainly wasn't Point A to Point B.

The ball cleared the bleachers and landed on the cement path in front of the clubhouse. It ricocheted high into the air, over the folks drinking beer in the balcony and onto the roof.

Adding to a bizarre round was that the supporting role was not played by Love, who shot a 65; but by a 23-year-old employee on the kitchen staff at Firestone named Josh Stuber.

He was unloading a stack of crunchy cream pies behind the clubhouse when he was startled by a golf ball rattling his cart.

Stuber saw the Nike swoosh on the ball. He saw ``One Platinum'' written in fine print on one side of it.

``I didn't notice the TW,'' he said an hour after the round ended.

Had he turned the ball over, he might have received another clue _ TIGER stamped on the other side.

He picked it up and set the ball in the cup holder of his cart, then drove off to a villa to set up a corporate party, no idea whose ball it was or how it got there.

``I went down to the lodge, and the next thing I know, everyone is looking for me,'' he said. ``They said, 'You stole Tiger Woods' ball.'''

Woods has won his last three tournaments, two of them majors. He is 80 under par in his last four tournaments since missing the cut in the U.S. Open at Winged Foot.

Apparently, that's not enough.

He's lucky, too.

``I thought for sure that ball must have been out-of-bounds,'' Woods said. ``Then, it wasn't out-of-bounds. On top of that, we had to somehow find it. It was a huge break to get out of there with 5.''

Woods got a free drop because the grandstand behind the green is a temporary immovable obstruction. Rules officials had to walk in an arc away from the back of the clubhouse, then used lasers to determine the yardage _ 97 yards _ and Woods eventually hit a lob wedge to 30 feet and two-putted for bogey.

Rules official Slugger White said the clubhouse has never been deemed to be out-of-bounds. In fact, he said Woods' ball could have bounced across Warner Road and onto the North Course and still would have been in play.

Adding to Woods' luck was that rules official Mike Shea said the ball was located _ or enough evidence to figure out what happened _ seconds before the five minutes allowed to search for a lost ball.

If the ball had been out-of-bounds or lost, he would have had to go back to the rough and play his fourth shot, and Woods likely would have made double bogey at best.

Ernie Els and Sergio went to the back of the clubhouse to see all the activity, and Summit County deputy sheriff Bill Muncy told them about the ball coming off the roof and rattling Stuber's cart. They walked back inside, incredulous at Woods' fortune.

Woods now is in great shape to capture his fourth consecutive PGA Tour victory, dating to the British Open last month. He also won the Buick Open, and picked up his third straight win last week at the PGA Championship.

Before arriving to the circus on No. 9, he looked as sharp as he has all season.

Woods opened with four straight birdies, all of them inside 15 feet, and pulled into the lead on the front nine with a 15-foot birdie putt on the first, a two-putt birdie from 40 feet on No. 2 and an 8-iron into 10 feet on the third.

He made pars the rest of the day as first-round leader Adam Scott faltered, and wound up one shot clear of Love and in the final pairing Saturday.

Love said he heard about the incident while he was finishing his round of 65. He was asked what he thought of a ball that went over the bleachers, over the clubhouse and into the service area.

``It's out-of-bounds, right?'' Love said. ``I would have thought it would have been. Obstruction? Biggest obstruction ever? I guess if you still miss this side of the road ... is the road not out-of-bounds, either?''

Nope.

The greater concern is trying to stop Woods.
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