ATLANTA — The first round of the Tour Championship was dominated by a player looking to make a statement after missing portions of the season with an injury, but that player was not Phil Mickelson.
Tim Clark, a diminutive South African who has struggled with neck pain on and off for the last 14 months, made six birdies and an eagle for a first-round 62 that tied the course record at soggy, vulnerable East Lake Golf Club.
"I missed probably five tournaments, four or five, that I would have played," Clark said of his neck injury. "You know, it's been doing okay, and obviously it's been a big stretch this last month and a half. Obviously after this week we'll take some time off."
Padraig Harrington fired a back-nine 29 to come in at 63, one behind Clark. John Rollins was another shot back after a 64, as was Tiger Woods, who was one of 20 players to finish the first round Friday morning. Woods, the leader in the inaugural FedEx Cup points standings, had the best start of those with a serious shot to win the Cup and $10 million in deferred compensation. Steve Stricker, second in the points standings, shot one-under 69, and Mickelson, in third, shot two-under 68.
The substandard greens were the story heading into the tournament, but the weather changed that. A surprise thunderstorm on Thursday led to a three-hour rain delay, and play was halted because of darkness at 7:09 p.m.
The second round is being played this morning (click here for updates) in hopes of completing play before another approaching storm, this one a remnant of Hurricane Humberto, reaches Atlanta.
"I made a couple of putts," Woods said. "I don't know how. I hit them up there and they bounced all over the place and somehow went in."
Clark may have benefited from being in the second pairing on Thursday, when the greens were relatively unscathed by spike marks. "I certainly was expecting a lot worse," he said. Woods was off last.
After making a par at the first hole, Clark birdied three straight to take a lead he'd hold all day. He birdied the par-4 12th and 14th holes after the rain delay and added an eagle 3 at the 495-yard, par-5 15th.
He has had pain in his neck since the 2006 British Open, and he believes it may have been caused by a swing flaw. Among the remedies he's tried is tilting his head slightly to the right at address, like Jack Nicklaus. In addition to alleviating the pain, he said, "It's helped my golf swing."
Much of the focus Thursday was on Woods, Stricker and Mickelson, but only one of them looked ready to play.