Woods takes early Barclays lead

Tiger Woods lines up a shot on the first green during the first round of The Barclays on Thursday....

Tiger Woods lines up a shot on the first green during the first round of The Barclays on Thursday. (REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi)

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, Last Updated: 3:46 PM ET

PARAMUS, N.J. -- Playing his best golf this year, Tiger Woods opened with a six-under 65 to earn a share of the early lead Thursday at The Barclays.

Woods was the first player off in the morning and racked up seven birdies and just one bogey in the PGA Tour playoffs opener.

"I just played today," Woods said.

Of course, it was the first competitive round for the world No. 1 since his divorce was made public on Monday, ending nine months of speculation about where he and Elin Nordegren stood as a couple in the wake of his sex scandal.

While he wouldn't say that a weight has been lifted from his shoulders, Woods seemed to hint that the turmoil in his personal life played as much a part in his recent on-course struggles as his swing problems.

"I think it's all of the above," Woods said.

If it holds up, Woods would have his first lead on the PGA Tour since the second round of last year's Tour Championship. Vaughn Taylor also opened with a 65 Thursday to share first place with Woods, while the second wave of players in the 121-man field were still on the course.

The Tour Championship is exactly what Woods is trying to reach. He entered the playoffs ranked 112th on the points list and needs to finish inside the top 57 at Ridgewood to make the 100-player field for next week's Deutsche Bank Championship.

After that, the fields are reduced to 70 players for the BMW Championship and 30 for the playoffs finale at the Tour Championship. Last year, only seven players ranked outside the top 30 at the beginning of the playoffs made it all the way to the last event.

Woods, a two-time FedEx Cup champion, could mathematically move to No. 1 in the standings with a victory this week.

"I figure if I win I should be OK," he said.

Mulling over another swing change -- it would be his fourth new swing on tour -- Woods played in the first group off No. 1 and opened with a 15-foot birdie putt.

"It was a good ball-striking day," he said. "Nice to have control. I didn't warm up very well initially. Was struggling a little bit. But fixed it, and I was committed to it all day."

Taking advantage of a soft course and calm conditions, Woods rattled off three more birdies on the front nine, making the turn with a four-under 31. He drove the green at the short par-four fifth and two-putted for one of those birdies.

"You had to get it today, especially with the wind being down early and then we had fresh greens," Woods said. "It was good to be out early."

He made his only bogey at No. 12, hitting his approach into a bunker. But he bounced right back with a six-foot birdie putt at the 13th and three-footer for birdie at the 14th.

Woods knocked his final approach to seven feet at the 18th, closing with a birdie for his best score of the year.

"It's exciting to hit the ball flush like this again. It's something I've been missing all year," said Woods. "I haven't hit it flush. And it felt good to hit the ball and shape it both ways and really hit it through the wind. I've hit so many shots this year that haven't been hit flush enough to get through the wind. But today I was doing it all day."

Taylor, who stands 38th in the FedEx Cup rankings, overcame an early bogey at No. 3 with seven birdies the rest of the way. He birdied four of his last six holes to join Woods in the early lead.

With his tour card locked up and sitting in a good position to make at least a couple more playoff fields, Taylor said everything else is just "gravy."

"Obviously (I) want to finish as high as I can on the FedEx and the money lists to get in all the majors next year and things of that nature. So it's pressure off, but also a little bit of pressure to reach your goals," he said.

Ryan Palmer cooled off after shooting a seven-under 28 on the front nine. He made a double-bogey at the 10th, a birdie at the 13th and closed with a bogey at the 18th to shoot a 65 and share third place with Brian Gay in the clubhouse.

Davis Love III and Camilo Villegas led a group at 67, while FedEx Cup leader Ernie Els (71) and No. 2 Steve Stricker (70) were also done their rounds.

Phil Mickelson was in the second wave of players.


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