CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Tiger Woods hit his stride early with three birdies through five holes and a collection of par saves that kept his round going. Vijay Singh came to life late with an eagle-birdie flurry to rescue an otherwise shaky round.
It left them atop the leaderboard on a chilly Friday at the Wachovia Championship, setting up the possibility of a showdown so desperately missing at the majors, at a tournament that has all the trappings of a major.
Woods missed birdie putts of 3 feet and 6 feet, and he finally dropped a shot on the final hole by hitting into the pine trees left of ninth fairway and settled for a 4-under 68. Playing in the group behind, Singh played his final three holes in 3 under for a 71.
They were at 6-under 138 and tied for the lead among early starters at Quail Hollow, happy to be in the clubhouse as rain threatened.
“I’ve got to go fix a few things,” said Woods, who hit only five fairways and twice swatted his bag with the handle of his driver after watching tee shots sail into the trees. “I’m very pleased with my score. I felt I pretty much have maximized my rounds.”
First-round leader Padraig Harrington took three quick bogeys at the start of his round and was spiraling down the leaderboard in the afternoon, while Jason Bohn, Carl Petterson and Ted Purdy took turns trying to join Woods and Singh at the top.
Ken Duke, the Nationwide Tour player of the year in 2006, had a second straight 70 and was at 140.
Phil Mickelson hit only one fairway on his front nine and traded birdies with bogeys on his way to a 71, which left him in the group at 141 along with Stewart Cink (71) and Anthony Kim (69). Jeff Maggert challenged for the lead until he found the water twice on the final two holes, taking double bogey on the 17th and bogey on the 18th. He shot 74 and was at 2-under 142.
In only its fifth year, the Wachovia Championship already is considered one of the premier stops on the PGA Tour because of the demanding test at Quail Hollow, which has tight, tree-lined fairways of a U.S. Open and severely sloped greens that cause players to aim away from some flags, as they would at the Masters.
Michael Jordan played Woods in the pro-am earlier this week, adding some sizzle to a steamy day. Now, the thought of Woods and Singh dueling on the weekend is equally enticing.
They haven’t been in contention at the same tournament on the weekend since the Deutsche Bank Championship last September outside Boston, where Woods overcame a three-shot deficit with an 8-under 63 in the final round to win by two.
But they were only halfway through the tournament, and Woods hardly looked invincible.
Even with temperatures in the 50s, Woods stayed on the practice range with swing coach Hank Haney for nearly two hours, trying to sort out a swing that made him rely too much on the putter.
“Today was part of a pretty good balance,” Woods said. “I missed a couple of short ones, but also got away with a couple of bad drives and made a pretty good up-and-down after a terrible iron shot. All in all, pretty balanced.”
He quickly moved up the leaderboard with a chip to 3 feet for birdie on the par-5 10th, a 20-foot putt on the 12th and a sand wedge into 8 feet on the short but tricky 14th.
What saved his round was par, none bigger than the par-5 15th. After getting stuck behind a bush and hitting out into the rough, Woods had 5-wood up the hill for his third shot and came up short. He pitched to 8 feet and escaped with par. He also made par on the 16th with a chip to a foot from short of the green, and on the 18th when he carved an iron around the trees to just short of the green.
The other big save came at No. 3, when Woods badly pulled an iron left of the green. He was some 50 feet away, but bumped a 7-iron up the slope and barely on the green, watching it roll to within 8 feet.
He was poised to extend his lead with a flop shot to 3 feet on the par-5 fifth, but missed badly to the left and had to make a 4-footer just to get his par. Three holes later, he hit sand wedge 6 feet below the hole and missed that one.
Woods was four shots clear of Singh walking toward the eighth green, but a loud cheer behind them indicated that would change. Singh hit 3-iron over the water to the par-5 seventh, catching the ridge just right so the ball rolled 3 feet from the cup for eagle. He followed that with a sand wedge to inside a foot for a birdie on the eighth.
That allowed him to overcome a miserable finish to his back nine, when he made bogey from the bunker on the 16th, again bailed out right on the par-3 17th and failed to save par, and three-putted from 10 feet for bogey on the 18th.
“I couldn’t get the greens this morning,” Singh said. “Maybe the temperature change must have done something to my hands. Finishing eagle-birdie, that was very comfortable.”
DIVOTS: John Daly made four double bogeys and a quadruple bogey on his way to an 87, his highest score on the PGA Tour since he shot 87 in the final round of the Bay Hill Invitational, when he had an 18 on one hole. It was the 50th time that Daly has shot 80 or higher on the PGA Tour. … Woods’ playing partners, Paul Stankowski and Craig Perks, finished at combined 26 over par.