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Wounded Tiger plays plenty tough

Posted: Friday, February 02, 2001

'It felt sore, yes. But when it's time to play, it's time to play. A friend of mine told me there's a difference between pain and injury.'

--Tiger Woods

Professional golfer

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- The limp was barely noticeable as Tiger Woods headed to the first tee Thursday. What followed was a game that's all too familiar.

One day after he got tripped up by an autograph hound and injured his knee, Woods found his stride at Spyglass Hill with birdies on the last three holes for a 6-under 66 in the first round of the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

Woods finished two strokes behind David Berganio, who had a bogey-free 64 at Spyglass under gorgeous conditions, a rarity for this tournament.

With barely a trace of wind, 114 players in the 180-man field were at par or better.

''I should be able to break 90 today,'' Woods joked as he walked off the putting green and headed to the range to hit balls for the first time since he sprained a ligament in his left knee Wednesday while trying to walk through a pack of fans.

Standing on the first tee, Woods reached back with his left leg and tapped the ground twice, then stepped up and belted a 321-yard drive. That was followed with a 3-wood that went 274 yards and left him pin-high to set up a birdie.

He managed to break 90, all right.

In fact, Woods said he knew nothing would keep him from his starting time. He had a brace on early Thursday, but decided to take it off before he played.

''It felt sore, yes,'' Woods said. ''But when it's time to play, it's time to play. A friend of mine told me there's a difference between pain and injury.''

Berganio tied the Spyglass tournament record, nearly holing out with a 6-iron on the 16th hole and finishing with birdies on two of his last three holes.

''If you're going to catch Spyglass when it's asleep, today is the day,'' Berganio said.

Not many people saw his 64, which matched Dan Forsman's score at Spyglass in the 1993 tournament.

The galleries lined both sides of the fairway to see how Woods might respond from the bizarre accident.

''He's Tiger Woods,'' Berganio shrugged. ''They're going to talk about him whether he has a hangnail or a hyperextended knee. I knew he would play.''

Woods was slightly tentative while walking the first two holes, and crouching to read his first putt. His knee got stronger as the day went on, and so did his game.

''It's definitely sore,'' he said. ''It was more sore at the beginning when I first started playing. The middle part was great and toward the end it started getting sore again.''

Woods was solid from start to finish.

The only time any pain was evident was the awkward finish after his 3-wood on the first hole from a downhill lie, and when he tried to crush a drive on the 529-yard seventh hole -- he hit that one 333 yards to set up another easy birdie.

''The first few drives were kind of difficult,'' Woods said. ''It's a little different that warming up on the range. You have a range swing, then you have a game-time swing.''

Watching among the gallery was swing coach Butch Harmon, who noticed a few adjustments but was hardly concerned.

''He can't get over to his left side as quickly, which I don't think hurts him,'' Harmon said. ''We've been working on getting his lower body more quiet. I haven't seen it present a problem. He's good at withstanding pain.''

Woods birdied the first two holes on the back nine, the second one important because it followed a 30-minute wait. He missed only three fairways and just one green, saving par with a delicate, downhill chip on the par-3 12th that stopped inches from the cup.

And if his knee was getting tender toward the end of a round that took 5 hours, 40 minutes, then it didn't show.

Woods blasted a 322-yard drive on No. 16 and hit a 9-iron into 5 feet for birdie. He holed a sharp-breaking 12-foot birdie on No. 17, then hit his approach into 4 feet on the final hole to close out his 66.

Imagine what he might have done with a strong knee.

''Probably a 73 or 74,'' Woods joked. He opened with a 73 at Spyglass a year ago in the rain and muck, and wound up winning the tournament by making up seven strokes on the final seven holes at Pebble Beach.

Tommy Armour III and Monday qualifier Mark Johnson each had a 65 at Poppy Hills, the easiest course in the rotation because it has five par 5s.

Also at 66 with Woods was Masters champion Vijay Singh, who finished two strokes back last year, Ed Fryatt and Brad Elder.

Mark Calcavecchia, who broke the 72-hole PGA Tour record last week in Phoenix with a 28-under 256, had a 40 on the front at Pebble Beach, closed with nine straight pars and had a 76. Casey Martin, playing on tour for the first time since the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in his lawsuit against the tour to ride a cart, had a 72 at Poppy Hills.

Woods said it might be a couple of weeks before his knee is fully recovered. It wasn't strong enough for him to go to the range after his round. After a 66 on Spyglass that got him off to a great start, he didn't need to.

Divots: The best player in Tiger Woods' foursome might have been Stanford buddy Jerry Chang, who had seven birdies while playing from the regular tees. Chang had a 30 on the back at Spyglass last year. ... David Duval, who became the first player to use Nike irons on the PGA Tour, went back to an old set of Titleists at Spyglass. His problem was putting. He bogeyed the last three holes for a 75. ... Greg Rita, who has caddied for Curtis Strange, John Daly and Scott Hoch, has a new boss for this week -- Ken Griffey Jr.



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