SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – When the fog finally lifted at the PGA Championship, there was Tiger Woods.
Not the Woods whose personal life is in shambles and his game not much better. The one who ruled golf with 14 majors — and counting.
Woods briefly climbed into a share of the lead with three birdies in his first four holes. But he bogeyed his sixth hole and missed a short birdie putt on the par-5 No. 16, leaving him two shots behind leader Charles Howell III. Stuart Appleby, who shot a 59 earlier this month in the final round of his win at Greenbrier, is one shot behind Howell.
Phil Mickelson, who could take the world No. 1 ranking from Woods this week, tees off in the afternoon with U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell and British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen. Playing two groups ahead of them are Stricker, the Wisconsin native and No. 4 player in the world, and Rory McIlroy, who tied a major championship record with a 63 in the first round of the British Open.
Seeing Woods atop the leaderboard so early at a tournament, even a major, isn't usually big news.
But there is nothing normal about Woods these days.
While his personal life is starting to "normalize" after nine months of tawdry details of infidelities, his game has never been lower. Woods arrived at Whistling Straits fresh off the worst performance of his career, shooting a whopping 18-over 298 and beating only one player in the 80-man field at Firestone — a course where he's won seven times. He's broken par in only four of his last 20 rounds, and is in danger of losing the No. 1 ranking he's held for a record 270 weeks in a row.
The PGA has a history of producing unexpected winners, and Woods' woes have just about everyone in the locker room thinking this might be their week to break through.
Not so fast. Woods looked relaxed during the fog delay that pushed tee times back 3 hours and 10 minutes Thursday morning, at one point bouncing a ball off his club while he talked with other players on the putting green. And when he finally got on the course, it was just like old times.
Starting on the back nine, he birdied the first two holes. He flew the green on the par-3 No. 12 and landed in some thick grass, but chipped within five feet and made the putt to save par. Another birdie on 13 moved him into the lead, but he slid back with his first bogey.
He blew a chance to make up some of the ground on the 16th, a 570-yard par-5. He almost putted out for eagle from just off the green, but his ball skipped over the hole. He had only a 3-footer for birdie, but pushed it just a touch to the right and had to settle for par.