White Sulphur Springs - Vijay Singh charged into a one-shot lead with a blistering finish to Thursday's opening round of the Greenbrier Classic at White Sulphur Springs in West Virginia as Tiger Woods made an erratic start.
Fijian Singh, seeking his first PGA Tour victory since the 2008 Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston, birdied the last four holes on the Old White TPC Course to card a superb seven-under-par 63.
The smooth-swinging former world number one covered the back nine in a sizzling six-under 30 to shoot his lowest round on the US circuit in four years.
“It's my first good round of the year that I would say I'm comfortable with,” the 49-year-old Singh told reporters after mixing eight birdies with a lone bogey. “I've been playing well for a while now thinking one of these weeks it's going to click.
“It's so close. I get it going and then I have one bad round - either the third or the fourth round. But today was nice. I drove the ball well, hit a lot of good iron shots and made some putts.”
Singh, a three-times major champion who has clinched 34 tournament wins on the PGA Tour, felt he had been putting himself under too much pressure in a bid to end his four-year title drought.
“I just have to believe,” he said. “I've been trying too hard, forcing the issue a little bit.
“I've now stopped looking at the leaderboard. If you just have a number in mind and play around it, by the end of the week you'll be right there.”
Tour veteran Jeff Maggert opened with a six-birdie 64 to end the day level with fellow Americans Martin Flores and Jonathan Byrd.
Compatriots J.B. Holmes and US Open champion Webb Simpson, Argentina's Andres Romero and South African Garth Mulroy were a further stroke back on 65.
Woods, the hottest player on the PGA Tour with three victories this season and bidding this week for a second consecutive win, returned a roller-coaster 71 that included a double-bogey seven at the 17th.
“Most of the day I was slightly off and I definitely struggled with my green speeds,” Woods told Golf Channel after totalling 31 putts in the opening round.
“My last three tournaments were awfully quick and I just didn't have the right speed out there.”
Woods, who overtook Jack Nicklaus in second place on the all-time list of PGA Tour winners with his two-shot triumph at the AT&T National on Sunday, is competing in the Greenbrier Classic for the first time.
Asked if he was still adjusting to the Old White Course, Woods replied: “It takes a little bit of time, especially in our tournament conditions.
“The ball goes a little bit further because of adrenalin but I've got the feel of the golf course now. I'm going to hit some balls later and definitely putt for a while.”
Four-times major winner Phil Mickelson also carded a 71, but was largely satisfied with his round after withdrawing from the Memorial tournament due to fatigue and tying for 65th at the US Open in his previous two events.
“I hit a lot of good shots and so I was encouraged by that,” the American left-hander said after mixing three birdies with two bogeys and a double-bogey at the par-four fifth.
“I haven't played well in the last six weeks so this was a good starting point, even though the score wasn't what I wanted.”
Fellow American Scott Stallings, who claimed last year's title at The Greenbrier resort in a three-way playoff, opened with a 67. - Reuters