ATLANTA (AP) — A stunning six-hole stretch that Tiger Woods played in 7 under par gave him control of the Tour Championship on Friday. He followed that with nine holes of mediocrity, which gave everyone else a chance.
Tearing apart a defenseless course at East Lake, Woods made five straight birdies and capped off his amazing run with a 70-foot eagle putt on the par-5 ninth hole to make the turn in 28. But he went five holes before his next birdie, and he had to settle for a 7-under 63 that gave him a three-shot lead over Woody Austin.
Woods was at 13-under 127, his best start to a tournament since he was 15-under through 36 holes at Firestone in 2000, which he went on to win by 11 shots.
At least at East Lake, he has some competition.
Austin had his second straight 65 and will play in the final group with Woods, thankful he wasn’t too far behind.
“He’s not hard to beat if you’re playing as well and you’re right there,” Austin said. “But if you let him get in front of you, like I said, he’s hard to catch.”
Not hard to beat?
Remember, it was Austin who suggested he outplayed Woods in the second round of the PGA Championship, the day Woods tied a major championship record with 63 and Austin shot 70.
Austin went on to finish second at Southern Hills, and he’ll get a chance to play with the world’s No. 1 player on Saturday in presumably sunny conditions. Woods and 19 other players had to return Friday morning to complete the first round, and he wound up play 25 holes and finishing in time to beat the rumble of thunder.
Woods’ string of birdies, which included a bunker shot he holed from 60 feet on No. 5, filled East Lake with plenty of electricity. But it might have taken all the drama out of the FedEx Cup finale.
Woods is atop the playoff standings, a victory would give him the cup and the $10 million prize. Steve Stricker, who needs to win to capture the cup, shot 67 and was nine shots behind. Phil Mickelson, who can only claim the FedEx Cup if he wins the Tour Championship and Woods finishes worse than second was seven shots behind after a 66 on Friday.