Tiger Woods Takes 5-Shot Lead at AmEx

Team Infidel

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The World Golf Championships offer some amazing perks. There's no cut, so everyone is guaranteed a check. The purse is $7.5 million, among the highest in golf, and even last place gets more than $30,000. If that sounds like a defeatist attitude to take at the American Express Championship, there's a reason. Tiger Woods has a five-shot lead.

Not everyone was waving a white flag when they walked off The Grove late Friday afternoon, although the 60-man field felt even smaller considering that Woods got off his best 36-hole start in six years.

With another eagle on the 567-yard 18th hole - this time in the middle of his round because he teed off on the back nine - Woods made it look easy on a spacious course to shoot a 7-under 64 and build a big lead over two Ryder Cup teammates, Jim Furyk and Stewart Cink, and Ryder Cup opponent David Howell of England.

Woods was at 15-under 127, his best opening two rounds since a 64-61 at Firestone in 2000 at the NEC Invitational, another World Golf Championship event. Woods won that year by 11 shots, although he was taking nothing for granted.

"I'm off to a good start so far, but again, we're only at the halfway point," Woods said. "With the way the conditions are, and the greens as soft as they are and as smooth as they are, you're going to have to make some birdies. The (winning) score is not going to be 15, so you've got to continue making birdies."

There already have been 462 birdies on The Grove, not to mention 10 eagles, so low scores abound.

Then again, Woods doesn't often give up a 36-hole lead, and he looks to be in the kind of form that has carried him to five consecutive PGA Tour victories.

Vijay Singh, who was No. 1 in the world 18 months ago, shot rounds of 73-75 and was a mere 21 shots behind.

Tim Herron wasn't much better, although he was in a better mood as he rapped a few putts on the practice green after his round. Someone asked him how he fared, and Lumpy replied, "A couple under, so that's like 1 under for the tournament."

He hit another putt, then finished the thought.

"What's that leave me, 14 shots behind Tiger?" Herron said.

Consider the case of Ernie Els. He lives 30 minutes away at Wentworth, so close that he came to The Grove twice last week to get familiar with the course and help his chances to win for the first time this year. He opened with a solid round 65, and was one shot off the lead early in his second round Friday until he stalled, and had to settle for a 70.

Still, that left the Big Easy at 7-under 135 - and eight shots behind Woods.

Furyk was 7 under through 13 holes until he missed the fairway at No. 6 and could not reach the green from the deep rough. He made his only bogey of the round, finished with three pars and still shot 65 to get into the final group Saturday with a familiar face. Woods and Furyk played all four team matches together at the Ryder Cup, as well as all three practice rounds.

"I wish I would have finished better," Furyk said.

Cink was at 11 under until a bogey on his 17th hole from the rough, and he wound up with a 67. He has momentum from last week, especially the way he trounced Sergio Garcia in singles, and was looking forward to trying to cut into Woods' lead.

But he knows it won't be easy, and proof of that came around the turn.

Cink started slowly and was four shots behind Woods when he found his stride. He hit his tee shot into 3 feet on the par-3 16th, holed a 20-footer from just off the green at No. 17, then made a 12-foot eagle putt on the 18th.

"I finish my front nine birdie-birdie-eagle, and I thought I had gotten myself right back in it. I thought that might get me within one or two shots of the lead," Cink said. "The next time I see a leaderboard, Tiger is at 15 (under). I actually lost ground."

Woods' record on the PGA Tour is 25-6 when he has at least a share of the 36-hole lead, although that's not quite as daunting as his 37-3 record atop the leaderboard going into the final round.

The bigger picture is his PGA Tour winning streak.

Even though Woods lost in the first round of the World Match Play Championship two weeks ago on the European Tour, a victory at the American Express would be his sixth in a row on the PGA Tour, inching closer to the record 11 straight won by Byron Nelson, whose funeral was Friday in Texas.

For some reason, that inspires Cink.

"Every streak has to come to an end, right?" he said as he walked onto the practice range to hone his swing in the fading light north of London. "At some point, he's not going to win. That's why it's called a streak. Because if it never ended, it wouldn't be called a streak. It would be like a beginning and a continuance."

Howell shot 66, while Padraig Harrington had a 69 and was another shot behind at 9-under 133.

Howell went head-to-head to beat Woods in China last year at the HSBC Champions event, although he wasn't facing a five-shot deficit. But he is in a tight Order of Merit race in Europe, and he is inspired playing solid golf the first two days. The trouble with these events being held after the Ryder Cup is that anyone who starts poorly is likely to lack motivation.

"If you start poorly, it can feel like after the Lord Mayor Show," he said. "And if you start strong, you can keep that momentum going. I need to drive it a little bit better if I'm going to be able to put any pressure on Tiger at all."