ATLANTA -- Vijay Singh wasn't sure his 5-wood could reach
the green on the par-3 18th hole at East Lake Golf Club. His goal
was to hit it straight, hit it hard and hope.
''It went dead straight, hard and stuck,'' Singh said Thursday.
The ball finished eight inches from the cup for a rare birdie on the
232-yard closing hole, a 5-under 65 and a share of the lead with
Steve Lowery in the Tour Championship.
He could have used that kind of result four years ago.
When the Tour Championship first came to East Lake in 1998, the
tournament was his to win. Instead, Singh's 3-iron on the final
hole bounced over the brick-hard green and into the rough, leading
to a bogey. He lost to Hal Sutton on the first playoff hole.
Even after one round in cold and swirling winds, Singh already
was looking ahead to redemption in the Tour Championship -- and at
''It owed me one in 1998,'' Singh said. ''It took me a while to
get over that one, especially the shot I hit on 18. I would like to
win this event, and on this golf course, because I've had two good
finishes. We'll see on Sunday what happens.''
Thursday was entertaining enough.
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, Nos. 1 and 2 in the world and on
the PGA Tour money, played together for the first time this year,
and what was believed to be the first time since the final round of
the 2001 Masters, when Woods won his fourth consecutive major.
Neither of their memories were very good, although Woods won't
forget the par-3 sixth hole any time soon. The wind laid down after
he hit a soft 7-iron, and his ball bounded over the green and into
the water for a double-bogey.
''I got fooled,'' Woods said.
That ended his streak of 328 holes with nothing worse than a
bogey, dating to the first hole of the third round in the Buick
Open, which he went on to win.
The rest of the day didn't get much better. His 3-iron into the
18th came up 80 feet short, and he missed a 6-footer for par. That
gave him a 71, the first time in 21 rounds he failed to shoot par
or better, dating to his 81 in the third round of the British Open.
''The wind was baffling to all of us,'' Woods said. ''You had to
be as patient as possible.''
Mickelson lost his patience only once, and that was before he
even hit his first shot.
The starter was reading off Woods' five victories this year --
Bay Hill, Masters, U.S. Open, Buick Open, American Express
Championship -- when Mickelson playfully cut her off.
''All right, all right,'' he said, acting as though he had heard
Mickelson had four birdies and four bogeys in an even-par 70.
Charles Howell III had the only other birdie on No. 18 and had a
66 in his Tour Championship debut. He is one of 10 players who have
never played in what amounts to the PGA Tour's All-Star game, a
season-ending event for the top 30 on the money list.
Scores figured to be low because of heavy rains in the Atlanta
area, and because the PGA Tour's best 30 players were allowed to
lift, clean and place their balls in the fairway. That was the
cause of low scoring on tour the last two weeks.
Cold, swirling winds kept it challenging through a sunny day.
''Even with the ball in hand, it was still tough to try to get a
gauge of what shot you're going to play,'' Woods said. ''Even if
you hit a good shot, you're not going to be guaranteed to be in a
Lowery was in a great spot -- at the Tour Championship instead of
the Southern Farm Bureau Classic, the event this week for the guys
who didn't finish in the top 30.
Lowery missed the cut last week in the Buick Challenge and
worried that he might not even qualify for the Tour Championship.
He wound up dropping only one spot on the money list to No. 29,
came to East Lake and then shot a 60 during the soggy pro-am
''I shot 29 on the back and 31 on the front,'' Lowery said of
the pro-am. ''I shot 31 on the front again, but I could not find
that 29 today.''
Still, it was good enough for a 65, a good start for one of six
players in the field still searching for their first PGA Tour
victory this year.
Singh and Howell were the only players without a bogey at East
Howell looked like he might stumble on 17 until he two-putted
from 65 feet, holing a 7-footer for par. He hit 2-iron to the 18th
and made a 20-foot birdie putt.
''The two-putt at 17 was more important than the birdie at 18,''
Howell said. ''It was really tough to read that putt with all the
shadows. We might have taken three minutes to read that putt and I
still didn't get it exactly right.''