Woods Is 2 Strokes Behind Lead at Dunlop

Thursday, November 16th 2006, 6:24 am
By: News On 6

MIYAZAKI, Japan (AP) _ Tiger Woods overcame a slow start and shot a 3-under 67 Thursday to sit two strokes behind leader Shingo Katayama after the first round of the Dunlop Phoenix.

Katayama, the highest ranked Japanese player in the world standings, had seven birdies and was one shot ahead of Spain's Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. Woods, the two-time defending champion, shared third place in the with Ireland's Padraig Harrington and Toshi Izawa, Satoru Hirota and Hisayuki Sasaki of Japan.

``I got a lot out of my round today,'' Woods said. ``I didn't really hit it all that well starting out. I made some nice putts for par and also a couple for birdie, hung around and stayed very patient.

``The weather conditions changed quite a bit on the back nine and became a lot more difficult, so I'm very pleased to shoot 3-under.''

Seeking his third consecutive victory in the $1.69 million event, Woods endured an embarrassing incident at the dogleg 332-yard, par-4 13th when he drove to the green with the previous threesome still putting. His ball landed in the front left fringe and rolled within several feet of the surprised players before stopping on the back fringe.

The green is not visible from the tee, blocked by a thick forest of stunted pines, and Woods said he didn't see the caddie's yellow flag warning that the green was still occupied.

``We saw no flag so I went ahead,'' Woods said. ``I thought they were off the green and they weren't, so I had to apologize when I got up there.''

Katayama, who was on the green at the time, described the incident as ``dangerous'', according to a translator, while Harrington shrugged it off.

``It can happen, a blind hole like that,'' said Harrington, who only smiled when asked whether he thought Woods was seeking revenge for the American team's recent Ryder Cup loss.

``It's quite a shock to the player doing it because you never want to hit into the group in front of you,'' Harrington said. ``He was very apologetic.''

A two-putt birdie from the fringe on No. 13 got Woods back on track after a slow start, and he picked up four more birdies to more than offset two bogeys.

Earlier, he made a slow start in front of an adoring gallery of more than 1,000 spectators, sinking a 5-foot putt to save par at the 11th. He dropped a shot at the par-4 12th, where he missed the fairway, missed the green and missed a 7-foot putt.

Woods, who has a six-tournament winning streak in stroke play on the PGA Tour, finished second at the HSBC Champions in China last week in his first event after a five-week break.

If he is still playing his way back into top form, 2000 champion

Katayama, the 2000 champion in this event, was at the peak of his game, demonstrating why he is ranked a healthy 36th in the world.

``My iron play was very good,'' he said.

Harrington, like Woods, was happier with his score than his game.

``Anything under 70 I would have been happy with, but to birdie the last two was a bonus,'' he said.