Woods Off to Best Start in 6 Years

Friday, September 29th 2006, 5:06 am
By: News On 6

CHANDLER'S CROSS, England (AP) _ Tiger Woods made another eagle on the 18th hole Friday in the American Express Championship, only this one didn't finish off a great round. It pumped life into what had been a dull one.

Woods, who started his round on the back nine, went on to birdie four of his next six holes on his way to a 7-under 64 that gave him his best 36-hole start in six years and a five-shot lead going into the weekend of this World Golf Championship.

He was at 15-under 127 and will be paired in the third round with Ryder Cup partner Jim Furyk, who played his last five holes in 1 over and still managed a 65. Stewart Cink (67) and David Howell (66) also were at 10-under 132.

Padraig Harrington shot 69 and was another shot back.

``We're only at the halfway point,'' Woods said. ``The (winning) score is not going to be 15, so you've got to continue making birdies.''

It was Woods' lowest over the first two days since he shot 64-61 at Firestone in 2000 to build a seven-shot lead at the NEC Invitational. In the midst of his best year in golf, Woods went on to win that tournament by 11 shots.

He is getting closer to the 2000 standard with each round.

Woods already has won seven times this year on the PGA Tour, including two majors (Masters and British Open) and one World Golf Championship at Firestone last month.

His 36-hole record on the PGA Tour (25-6) is not nearly as daunting as having the lead going into the final round, although the way he is playing on a course that suits him doesn't leave the 60-man field optimistic.

Tim Herron was on the practice green after his round when someone asked him how he did.

``Couple under, so that's like 1 under for the tournament,'' Herron said. ``What does that leave me, 14 shots behind Tiger?''

And it's been awhile since Vijay Singh was 21 shots behind Woods after two rounds. The Fijian, who has struggled most of the year, has opened with rounds of 73-75.

Ernie Els, who lives about 30 minutes away and played The Grove twice last week to get familiar with it, made eagle on the second hole to get within one shot of the lead early in his round, but he stalled after that. Els had to make birdie on the final hole for a 70, leaving him eight shots behind.

Woods opened with a 12-foot birdie, then plodded along under most gray skies north of London, rarely giving himself good looks at birdie and having to struggle at times for par.

That changed on what is becoming his favorite hole, the 567-yard 18th.

On Thursday, he ripped a 3-wood into the breeze to within 20 feet for eagle that gave him a 63 and a one-shot lead. It was his ninth hole of the second round, and the result was event better. From only 246 yards this time, his approached landed as soft as a 6-iron, some 10 feet behind the flag for another eagle.

``That basically got things started,'' Woods said.

Woods was trailing Furyk by one shot when he stood in the 18th fairway, and his eagle gave him a one-shot lead. He quickly took off, reaching the par-5 second in two shots for a routine birdie, then reeling off three straight birdies starting with a 35-footer at the fourth.

The rain became heavy as he finished his last two holes, making the course softer and longer.

Furyk was 7 under for his round through 13 holes when he stopped making birdies, and a tee shot into the rough on the sixth hole left no chance to reach the green. He missed a 12-foot par putt.

``I wish I would have finished it off a little better,'' Furyk said.

Cink reached 11 under with a birdie at No. 6, but he missed the eighth fairway to the right and couldn't reach the green. Cink missed his 12-foot par putt there, and a 12-footer for birdie on the ninth that would have put him in the final group with Woods.

``I've got a lot of momentum after last week, even though we didn't win,'' Cink said. ``I'm really looking forward to the challenge, going out there and mixing it up. Tiger is well ahead.''

Brett Quigley matched Woods for the best round Friday with a 64, moving him up to 8-under 134, still seven shots behind in his debut at a World Golf Championship event.