Woods fires 65 to share Barclays lead

By Larry Fine

PARAMUS, New Jersey (Reuters) - Tiger Woods fired a six-under-par 65 at rain-softened Ridgewood Country Club on Thursday for his best round of the year and a share of the first-round lead at the Barclays tournament.

Tied for the lead was fellow American Vaughn Taylor, who posted three birdies in a row from the 13th in his 65 in the opening event of the lucrative FedExCup playoffs.

Australian Adam Scott and Americans Ryan Palmer and Brian Gay were tied for third one stroke behind the leaders. Fourteen players were locked a further stroke adrift at four-under 67.

Woods took advantage of gentle conditions and lift-clean-place provisions due to the soggy ground with a solid ball-striking round.

The 34-year-old missed just one fairway and three greens and would have gone lower had he not lipped out of the hole on three occasions.

WINLESS SEASON

"It's exciting to hit the ball flush like this again," said Woods, who has struggled through a winless season as he dealt with the fallout from the sex scandal that led to his divorce this week from Elin Nordegren.

"It's something I've been missing all year."

A lowly 112th in the FedExCup standings, Woods teed off in the first group of the day and birdied four holes on the front nine on a mild, sunny day before stumbling at the 12th with a bogey after finding a greenside bunker.

He rebounded with three more birdies and capped a satisfying round by rolling in a seven-footer for birdie at the 18th.

The round eclipsed the world number one's previous best this season of 66 at Pebble Beach in the U.S. Open.

Australian Scott nearly joined Woods and Taylor as he reached six-under at the seventh, his 16th hole of the day, before taking bogey on his last hole of the day.

"I'm very happy with everything I did today," said Scott, who put in a solid week of practice on his putting and had it pay some dividends on Thursday.

"Last week was fun practicing and I came here with a good attitude and kept up the good play and made some putts today. It could have been better but I made some."

Palmer, winner of this year's Sony Open in Hawaii, looked like he might run away from the field when he birdied the first five holes to make the turn at 28. However, he promptly double-bogeyed the 10th to slip back.

The group tied at 67 included last year's winner Heath Slocum, fellow American Davis Love III, Camilo Villegas of Colombia and Australia's John Senden.

Briton Rory McIlroy, Argentina's Angel Cabrera and K.J. Choi of South Korea were among a clutch of players on 68. FedExCup leader Ernie Els of South Africa shot an even-par 71, a stroke better than world number two Phil Mickelson in the 121-man field.

(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Kevin Fylan/Ian Ransom)