Unlike last Sunday, Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington paid a lot of attention to each other on Thursday. (Squire/Getty Images)
New day brings new outlook for both Woods and Harrington
Last Sunday at Firestone, Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington were all business. They played together again on Thursday, and the mood was considerably lighter as both men just tried to get off to a good start.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
CHASKA, Minn. -- The conversation Sunday went something like this.
"I'm playing Titleist," said Padraig Harrington, who led by three at the time. "And I've got a Nike -- good luck," countered Tiger Woods.
Little else was said between the handshakes on the first tee at Firestone Country Club last Sunday and those on the 18th green after Tiger Woods came from behind to won the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational for the seventh time. It was, after all, a "business day," as Harrington would later point out, and the intensity of each competitor was palpable.
Thursday's first round of the 91st PGA Championship at Hazeltine National was very different, though. The two men, who had won the last two PGAs, found themselves playing together again along with Rich Beem, the winner at Hazeltine in 2002. Instead of grinding to win a golf tournament, though, they were just trying to play themselves into that position.
The three did a pretty good job, too. Woods fired a bogey-free 67 to take a one-stroke lead over Harrington, the defending champ, and a four-stroke edge on Beem. But there was time to chat, too -- even marvel over what it took for Alvaro Quiros to reach the 11th green in two from 606 yards out, into the wind, while Woods, Harrington and Beem were still putting out.
"In fairness, last Sunday, both of us were heavily into our own games," Harrington said. "We were both focused and in the zone. I think today was a lot more easy going. We were a lot more relaxed and we chatted away today so many things, lots of different things."
Unlike on Sunday, when the Irishman had tunnel vision, though, Harrington actually allowed himself to notice how Woods was playing, and not surprisingly, it was one of his opponent's better efforts. The Dubliner says playing with Woods "pushes you" and "you know you have to go for your shots if you want to compete." That's why he enjoys the challenge so much.
"I watched a lot of his shots," Harrington said. "It's amazing. I was watching a few of his shots today and a few of his swings. And I was thinking to myself how I was noticing things today that I didn't see on Sunday as in I was so much into my own game on Sunday I didn't see a thing at all.
"But you can do that on a Thursday. You can be a bit more relaxed. Sunday's the business day and the first three days are about building up to that," he explained. "Today was a nice pleasant round of golf and it's better to keep it that way. That gets the best results as it showed today for all of us."
Woods' result Thursday was much better than in the first three majors of 2009. The 70 at the Masters left him in a tie for 20th while the world No. 1 was tied for 81st after a 74 at the U.S. Open and 68th after a 71 at the British Open. He tied for sixth at the first two but missed just his second major cut at Turnberry.
"You have to play well at the right time, and that's about it," Woods said. "I just didn't put it all together the other three major championships. The first two I was there with a chance; the last one I wasn't, but hopefully I will be this one as well."
Judging by the ease with which Woods mastered the longest course in major championship history, that's a pretty good bet. The form that has propeled him to wins the last two weeks remains as grooved and graceful as ever.
"It's always nice to get off quick," Woods acknowledged. "But the first round, you can play yourself out of a golf tournament. Certainly cannot win the golf tournament on the first day. And it's something that I've always believed in, is just keep yourself around. "You don't have to be eight ahead after the first round. That's not it.
"Just gotta just keep plodding along, and major championships are set up so they're difficult. They beat you into making mistakes. And the whole idea is not to make that many mistakes. All the majors that I've won, made very few mistakes for the week, and I think all of the other guys can say the same as well for the championships they've won."
Thursday was one of those days. Woods hit 12 of 14 fairways, which is a career best as far as major championships are concerned. He rolled in birdie putts of 20, 2, 20 and 30 feet, and he two-putted from 30 feet on the par-5 seventh.
"Today I was very consistent," Woods said. "I hit my irons well. And as I said, I hit a lot of good putts that were skirting the edge and lipping out. Just gotta keep doing that. I felt very comfortable what Hank (Haney) and I were working on the last three days and it carried over to today, and hopefully it will carry over to the rest of the week."
For the record, Woods has held six first-round leads in a major and he has gone on to win four of those. But Harrington was surprised to learn Woods hadn't broken 70 in the first round of a major since the '07 Open Championship.
"He doesn't look like he couldn't break 70 out there today," the Irishman said. "Obviously years ago, he had probably more flair in his game and a lot more flamboyant about his game. His game is very solid now. Not that he hit all the shots but I think he's put a little bit of conservatism on his game. It's nice and he's very much in control of it."
And of the 91st PGA Championship, as well.