Thomastown (Ireland): Tiger Woods birdied four of the last six holes for a course record of seven-under-par 65 and a one-shot lead in the first round of the WGC-American Express Championship on Thursday.
The world number one, back in action after a three-week break, picked up three shots on his first nine and four more after the turn as he made the most of a calm day of sunshine at the par-72 Mount Juliet course.
That put him one clear of 2001 US PGA champion David Toms and fellow American Steve Lowery, who chipped in twice during his round on his way to four birdies and an eagle-three at the 552-yard fifth.
Meanwhile, Japan’s Shigeki Maruyama pulled out of the meet after the first round due to a shoulder injury.
The 33-year-old from Chiba, who won this year’s Byron Nelson Classic on the US PGA Tour, carded an opening round of three-over-par 75 at the Mount Juliet course.
Woods, winner of the 1999 American Express Championship, was generally delighted with his game, but was disappointed that he pulled several of his drives left on the longer holes.
Defending champion Mike Weir of Canada also made the most of the benign conditions, bouncing back from a faltering start to fire a 67. He shares fourth place with Americans Chris DiMarco and Jerry Kelly, twice major winner Vijai Singh of Fiji, 2001 US Open champion Retief Goosen and England’s Gary Evans.
A further stroke back was a group of 10 including British Open champion Ernie Els, twice US Masters winner Jose Maria Olazabal, Zimbabwe’s Nick Price, Americans Justin Leonard, Kenny Perry and Scott Verplank and Swedish Ryder Cup player Niclas Fasth.