<
>

Late bogeys sink Woods; Singh fires 73

HOUSTON -- Ten minutes after he watched his par putt spin
out of the hole to end an aggravating day, Tiger Woods changed into
shorts and a sleeveless shirt, then strapped on his fingerless
gloves to go lift weights.

"It might be a little heavier this time," Woods said of his
workout.

If anything, he needed to work off some steam Thursday.

In a pressure-packed finale of the PGA Tour season, Woods had no
trouble distancing himself from chief rival Vijay Singh in the
first round of the Tour Championship.

It's the other dozen guys ahead of him that present the problem.

Charles Howell III and Kenny Perry led the way Thursday, each
with a 4-under 67 in the tricky breezes at Champions Golf Club to
tie for the lead.

Woods was tied for the lead at one point after a brilliant start
in which he put five strokes between him and Singh after the first
five holes.

But he let a good round get away with three straight bogeys on
the back nine, including a three-putt on the par-5 13th, for a 1-under
70 that left him tied for 13th.

"I hit two bad shots, and that was it," Woods said. "The rest
were most putting mistakes."

Singh was even worse, using his putter 36 times in a round of 73
that kept him at the bottom of the leaderboard throughout the day.

"I let the putts get away from me," Singh said. "And I got
very tentative after that."

At stake in the final tournament of the PGA Tour season are the
money title -- advantage Singh -- and player of the year, with Woods,
Singh, Mike Weir and Davis Love III in the hunt. All of them likely
could win the award with a victory at Champions.

Love finished with a double bogey and a bogey for a 73. Weir,
the Masters champion, was 1 over on the par 5s, made four bogeys in
his last 10 holes and shot 72.

This week means just as much to Howell, who is desperate not to
end the season without a victory.

"Am I frustrated for not winning this year? Yeah, a little
bit," Howell said. "I don't think you can ever give yourself an
'A' for the season without a win."

Perry, who had eight consecutive finishes in the top 10 this
summer, had the only bogey-free round at Champions.

"Hopefully, that ball will keep flying at the flag and I keep
making putts," Perry said.

Fred Funk, Jerry Kelly and Chris DiMarco all had a 3-under 68.

Only 16 players in the 31-man field of top money-winners managed
to break par.

Most of the focus was on Singh and Woods, a final pairing that
figured to set the tone for the week at Champions.

Singh has a $768,494 lead over Woods and knows what he has to do
this week.

With an enormous gallery lining both sides of the fairway from
tee to green, it had the atmosphere of match play. He is not one to
be intimidated, although he looked nervous over the first few holes
and never got it going.

He three-putted from 35 feet on the second hole, and took
another three-putt bogey on the par-3 fourth, both times leaving
himself about 8 feet for the par putt.

Woods, meantime, looked more determined than he has all year.

He hit a 4-iron over a canyon into 10 feet on No. 4, then moved
to the top of the leaderboard with a 5-iron from 225 yards that
landed softly on the flat part of the green and stopped 2 feet from
the cup at the par-5 fifth for a tap-in eagle.

Woods appeared to be making a statement: Hold onto those PGA
Tour player of the year ballots, and don't take his name off the
money title trophy just yet.

But it all fell apart on three holes.

With one swing -- a drive that sailed to the right and into the
trees on No. 11 -- all the momentum was gone. Woods whipped his body
around and slammed his club into the ground, and bogeys started
appearing on his card with alarming regularity.

He had to chip out and missed a 20-footer for par.

On the par-3 12th, he barely got his bunker shot out of the
trap, and beat the rake handle with his wedge. Woods had to make a
6-footer just to save bogey.

The real shocker was on his final par 5, No. 13, which was
playing downwind. He drove into the left rough, hit into a bunker
and then three-putted for bogey from 35 feet.

The last time Woods and Singh played together was at the
American Express Championship, when Woods held on to his two-stroke
lead in the final round to win. The conversation was minimal that
day, and Thursday was no different.

"It doesn't really matter," Woods said of the pairing. "The
only time it mattered was in Atlanta, where we were paired in the
final round when things can happen. You just need to get to that
position on Sunday."

Notes
Howell now has five straight rounds in the 60s in the Tour
Championship. He played his first one last year at East Lake, but
finished two shots behind Singh. ... K.J. Choi is 30th on the money
list, and because Darren Clarke was added to the field, Choi had
the first tee time and played alone. He declined to have a marker
play with him, and shot 77. ... Tim Herron failed to make a birdie
in his round of 79.