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Tiger (75), Daly (81) stumble from get-go

HAVEN, Wis. -- So much for Whistling Straits leaving
everyone in dire straits.

After three days of hysteria that this PGA Championship might be
the toughest ever, Darren Clarke made short work of the longest
course in major history Thursday with birdies on his first four
holes for a 7-under 65 and a one-shot lead over Ernie Els and
Justin Leonard.

Yes, these guys are good.

But the course just wasn't so bad.

The PGA lopped off 145 yards by moving up three tee boxes. The
hole locations were so generous that no one complained, a rarity in
professional golf. And Mother Nature helped out, sending only a
gentle breeze off Lake Michigan instead of whipping wind that had
everyone so nervous.

"I didn't know what to expect coming in here," Jay Haas said
after his 68. "It seemed like one of the hardest courses we ever
played. If that was the case, (7 under) wouldn't be leading the
tournament."

When Clarke polished off his round of nine birdies, he had the
lowest score under par in the opening round of a major since Chris DiMarco also had a 7-under 65 at the '01 Masters. That was the year
before Augusta National was beefed up.

"We got fortunate with the conditions," Clarke said. "The
greens were holding. We were able to fire at flags that we were not
able to do earlier in the week."

Remember all that talk about players desperate to shoot par?
Thirty-nine broke par in the first round -- including 21 rounds in
the 60s -- and 21 others shot even par.

Tiger Woods was not among them. He was 3 over after his first
four holes, had an "astrocious" time putting and wound up with a
75, leaving him in a tie for 104th in the 155-man field.

Winless in his last nine majors, Woods now has another streak to
worry about. With a double bogey on his second hole and 32 putts in
his round, Woods failed to break 70 in the first round of a major
for the 10th straight time, and starts the second round in serious
jeopardy of ending his streak of 127 consecutive cuts.

Vijay Singh, playing with Woods and John Daly (81), got himself
into position to end an 0-for-18 drought in the majors with a
5-under 67, putting him in a large group that included Ryder Cup
hopefuls Scott Verplank and Luke Donald, along with Briny Baird.

Masters champion Phil Mickelson opened with three straight
birdies in the afternoon and shot 69, a good start in his bid to
become the first player to finish in the top 3 in all four majors
in the same year.

"Without wind, all that trouble -- all those bunkers you see --
aren't really in play for us," Mickelson said. "The course played
very susceptible to low scores, to birdies."

British Open champion Todd Hamilton shot 72.

"The course wasn't as bad as advertised," Hamilton said.
"They were pretty easy on us. You can tell by the scores."

Singh, who slipped out a side door to avoid speaking to
reporters after his 67, later told a PGA Tour official that he
thought the tournament went soft.

"I think they kind of went a little too easy," Singh said. "I
enjoyed playing it, and I think it's going to get tougher from here
in."

The PGA champion has been under par 41 times in the 46 years
since the tournament switched to stroke play, and most everyone
figured Whistling Straits would be one of those exceptions. The
wind can be wicked off Lake Michigan, the greens are enormous with
severe slopes and it's not easy to get the ball close to the hole.

But it didn't take long to realize this wasn't the monster
course that had been predicted.

"I think 2-under yesterday morning would have looked
unbelieveable," Charles Howell III said after his 70. Instead, he
was tied for 22nd.

Clarke, the 35-year-old from Northern Ireland, wasted no time
quieting all the talk that players would be begging for mercy.

He hit a lob wedge into 12 feet for birdie on the opening hole
and was off to the races. He just missed the par-5 second hole in
two shots for an easy birdie, hit 8-iron into 18 feet for birdie on
the third and followed that with a driver and a 9-iron on the
493-yard fourth hole to 12 feet for another birdie.

"The greens were soft, and some of the pin positions were ... I
would not say generous, but reasonable," he said. "There were
birdie opportunities out there. Fortunately, I made the most of
them."

He didn't have much choice. The biggest threat came from his own
group -- Leonard and K.J. Choi, who birdied his first five holes and
wound up with a 68. They combined to shoot 17 under par.

Els, seeking redemption at the PGA from a season of major
heartache, also warmed up quickly by hitting 8-iron to 2 feet on
the par-3 12th and making birdie on two other par 3s -- a 15-footer
on the menacing 17th, a 5-footer on No. 3.

"If we have decent conditions, we can score," Els said.

An example of how the conditions changed came on the par-4 18th,
listed as one of three 500-yard par 4s. The tee box was moved up 51
yards to play at only 449 yards, and the wind was at the players'
backs. During a practice round, Els smashed a drive and still had
to hit a 3-wood to reach the green. On Thursday, he hit a 3-wood
through the fairway, and an 8-iron to the green.

"It's a very tough layout," Els said. "I just felt that we
had a break today in the weather."

Nothing seems to help Woods, who once dominated the majors but
now saves them for his worst putting. He started with a birdie, but
fell apart by hitting into the left rough twice, the right rough
once and three-putting from the fringe for a double bogey. He
followed that with two more bogeys and was 3 over just four holes
into the final major.

The only bright spot?

He hit driver on the 373-yard 14th hole, and a huge cheer that
started from around the green and filtered all the way to the tee
told him he was on the green, some 30 feet away for a two-putt
birdie.

Still, the focus Friday will be on whether he makes the cut, not
whether he contends.

And the curiosity continues. Whistling Straits is still a beast,
and all it takes is a little wind, firmer greens, some tougher pins
and tee boxes returned to their regular positions, and everything
could change.

"About the time this is over, I don't think the scores are
going to be all that low," Verplank said. "But they're not going
to have to do something idiotic like the USGA did" at the U.S.
Open at Shinnecock Hills.