Woods and Harrington lead the way

Tiger Woods admitted to feeling “very comfortable” after hitting the front on the opening day of the USPGA Championship at Hazeltine National.

Tiger Woods admitted to feeling “very comfortable” after hitting the front on the opening day of the USPGA Championship at Hazeltine National.

Woods and Padraig Harrington started the final major of the year as they finished the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last week, locked in a duel at the top of the leaderboard.

Woods opened his account with a bogey-free, five-under-par 67, while defending USPGA champion Harrington shot a 68 to throw down the gauntlet to the afternoon wave of starters, including world number two Phil Mickelson and 2009 major winners Angel Cabrera, Stewart Cink and Lucas Glover.

“I was just very comfortable with what I was doing today,” Woods said after playing the par-72, 7,674-yard Hazeltine, the longest course in major championship history.

“The golf course is set up very fair. It’s difficult but as Paddy (Harrington) and I were saying, you don’t (usually) see pins, six, seven, eight feet from the side. It’s normally three and four.

“So you can make birdies and be a little more aggressive going at these flags. You don’t have to be as conservative.”

Having gone toe-to-toe at Firestone Country Club last Sunday in the final round, Woods and Harrington were paired once more for the first two rounds alongside Rich Beem, the 2002 champion when last the event visited Hazeltine.

A triple-bogey from Harrington last Sunday had decided their battle and handed Woods his fifth victory of the year and the world number one, a four-time US PGA champion, began the quest for his 15th major looking for a third tournament win in as many weeks.

The pair matched hole for hole initially, both sinking birdies at their third hole of the day, the 12th, the Irishman thanks to a great approach shot to six feet and Woods with a 25-foot putt.

Woods stole a march on the 642-yard, par-five 15th, getting up and down from a bunker but at the next hole Harrington caught up thanks to another good iron shot to six feet.

Harrington had his only stutter of the day when he bogeyed the first but bounced straight back with a birdie at the next hole to return to two under.

Woods also birdied the second hole got to four under with a birdie at the par-five third, his 12th, Harrington joining him there thanks to another good iron shot at the sixth, from where he made a birdie three.

Woods added another birdie from three feet at the seventh, his 16th, to go into the outright lead at five under, finally separating himself from the Irishman to take the clubhouse lead in 67.

“I’m very happy,” Harrington said. “First day of a major it’s always good to keep yourself in there.

“I think I did a little bit more than that; anytime you break 70 you’ve got to be pleased.

“It’s a little bit tough when you’re coming back to defend the tournament, there’s a little bit more spotlight and focus, so shooting 68 is a good start.”

Harrington said playing with Woods in a marquee group also including Beem, who posted a 71, was a positive influence on his performance.

“The great thing when you play with Tiger is that you know you’re going to have to play the shots,” he said. “It puts you under more pressure and you feel like you might as well go after it rather than hang back.

“It actually helps you focus and you know you have to be on your very best form. It motivates you to play well.”

American Hunter Mahan closed with a bogey five at the ninth for a three-under 69 in the clubhouse alongside Australia’s Allenby and Mathew Goggin and Alvaro Quiros of Spain.

In-form world number 13 Lee Westwood, who tied for third place at last month’s Open Championship, sent down two birdies in his last five holes for a two-under 70, a score matched by Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell.

Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy got his USPGA debut up and running with a one-under-par 71, as did Spain’s Sergio Garcia.

World number three Paul Casey withdrew early this morning due to a rib injury, his place in the 156-man field taken by American Tim Petrovic.

As the afternoon wave got under way and light rain began to fall at the Minnesota course, the later starters were making steady but unspectacular progress.

Vijay Singh of Fiji, France’s Thomas Levet, Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen, Australia’s John Senden and 2002 champion David Toms were the best of the bunch, all at or near the turn at two under.

England’s Ian Poulter was at one under after 10 holes, while US Open champion Glover was at level par after nine and Mickelson was one over after nine alongside Oliver Wilson.

Masters champion Cabrera was two over after nine while Open winner Cink, playing with his fellow 2009 major winners, had a terrible start, five over after six holes before birdies at the seventh and ninth began to turn things around.

European Ryder Cup 2010 captain Colin Montgomerie of Scotland was three over having played 11.

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