Clark Holds Lead at Tour Championship

Friday, September 14th 2007, 7:56 am
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) _ Tiger Woods took a big swing and couldn't figure out which way the ball was going. At first it looked like a fade, but then it turned into a draw before it straightened out at the end and produced a marvelous result.

This wasn't a tee shot.

It was a putt.

And it's a good thing it found the bottom of the cup for birdie Thursday in the Tour Championship, because East Lake was such a pushover that par doesn't mean much in the final playoff event for the FedEx Cup.

Tim Clark showed that with a 62 that tied the course record at East Lake _ for now, at least. Only 10 players managed to finish the first round because of a three-hour storm delay that drenched the course and turned already soft greens into sponges.

Woods was at 4 under, and not quite sure how he got there, using his 30-foot birdie putt on No. 3 as an example.

``That putt was bouncing all over the place,'' Woods said after finishing 11 holes before darkness suspended the first round until Friday morning. ``It bounced to the right, I thought I missed it. Then it bounced left, I thought I was going to miss it left. And then somehow, it wiggled back to the right up the hill and it went in.''

This wasn't what the tour wanted for its so-called ``Super Bowl'' to conclude four weeks of the PGA Tour Playoffs. The field staff, helped by superintendents from neighboring clubs, did a noble job getting the greens in good enough shape to hold a tournament.

They were on life support a few weeks ago, then nurtured back to health with some sodding and seeding, then letting the grass grow to help fill in the barren patches. Green sand also was used to fill in some spots around the edges.

The guys who were first to tee off felt the greens rolled better than expected, perhaps because they had no footprints.

British Open champion Padraig Harrington was in the first group, got his act together after the rain delay, and closed with four straight birdies for a 63. Clark was in the group behind, and his name was atop the leaderboard from the start.

He birdied three straight holes to reach 3 under through No. 4, made a terrific par on the par-5 ninth with a 20-foot putt, returned from the rain delay by stuffing a wedge inside a foot on No. 12, then reached 8 under by holing out a chip for eagle on the 15th.

Not bad for a guy who wasn't even sure he would be here.

Clark was at No. 33 in the playoff standings last week at the BMW Championship when he went 67-67 on the weekend and tied for fifth, earning enough points to get into the top 30 in the FedEx Cup standings and qualify for the Tour Championship.

``Having a good Sunday round last week, I had a bit of confidence,'' Clark said.

Harrington skipped Chicago to take a breather at home in Ireland and got the 30th spot. He flew across the Atlantic for the Tour Championship, and felt like he was at home again. He said the greens resemble his native land in the spring, when the grass is just starting to grow and the greens can be slow and hairy.

``You've got soft greens, the greens are at a pace that you can really be aggressive on them and run the ball at the hole,'' Harrington said. ``So yeah, I would think it's a good week for scoring.''

How good?

Even though only 10 of the 30 players finished their rounds, only five players were over par _ at 1 over.

John Rollins shot 29 on the back nine, including a 3-iron from a hanging lie in the fairway that stopped 20 feet from the hole for an eagle at No. 15 that carried him to a 64.

``With these conditions, the greens are like a dart board,'' Rollins said.

The FedEx Cup and its $10 million prize will come into view a little better on the weekend, although Woods can't argue with the start.

The world's No. 1 player is leading the points race coming off his victory last week at the BMW Championship, and a victory at East Lake will give him the FedEx Cup.

The guys chasing him need to find another gear.

Steve Stricker, who also can win the FedEx Cup simply by winning the Tour Championship, played in the final group with Woods and saw several good putts slide by the cup. He missed from 6 feet for birdie on the third and 8 feet for par on the fourth, and when was halted, he was at 1 over par and already nine shots out of the lead.

Phil Mickelson was at 1 under thanks to a late surge.

Lefty went so far left with his 3-wood off the first tee that he was closer to the lake on the ninth hole than the fairway on the first hole, leading to bogey. Then came a tee shot on No. 4 that nearly went onto the road, and he made double bogey.

But he birdied three straight holes to close out the front nine at even par, then added a 7-foot birdie on his 12th and final hole Thursday to get to 1 under. For Mickelson to be the FedEx Cup champion, he would have to win at East Lake and make sure Woods does not finish alone in second.

The other two players with a mathematical chance are Rory Sabbatini and K.J. Choi, both at 1 under.

That's usually a respectable score at East Lake. This year, in these conditions, it's enough to get left far behind.