- The Washington Times - Friday, August 17, 2001

DULUTH, Ga. Tiger Woods has started with a whimper once again.

In each of the last three major championships, the 25-year-old Woods has left his A-game tools in the trunk and showed up with a shovel. Just as he did at the U.S. and British opens, Woods dug himself a considerable opening-round hole yesterday at the 83rd PGA Championship.

With a pair of double-bogeys and some extremely spotty putting, golf's struggling titan posted a first-round 73 on the 7,213-yard, par-70 layout, taking a beating from fellow 2001 major champions David Duval (66) and Retief Goosen (69).

"I didn't hit the ball very good today," said Woods, who has posted an average first-round score of 73.2 in his last five starts. "I made some bad mistakes with my swing and some bad mistakes on the greens today."

Woods' two biggest miscues both came with his recovery pitches around the greens at Atlanta Athletic Club. After pulling his 3-iron left of the cart path into a terrible lie on the par-3 15th (his sixth hole), Woods hit an overly aggressive wedge that went bounding through the green and trickled into the water on the opposite side. Woods then dropped and hit another, far better pitch from the same spot before sinking a testy five-footer for double-bogey.

Double-bogey disaster again greeted the six-time major champion at the third hole. After a perfect drive left him a relatively straightforward 9-iron to an exposed pin, Woods proceeded to yank his approach left of the green. He then tossed away another couple of strokes with a suddenly suspect short game, leaving a flop shot desperately short in the fringe, chunking a makeable chip and wrapping up the ghastly package with a miss from four feet.

"I had a 9-iron in my hands and just yipped it," Woods said of the shot that started it all on No. 3. "To compound the problem, I kept hitting bad shots after that."

The two doubles, combined with bogeys at Nos. 9, 10 and 14, sabotaged a round in which Woods made a respectable four birdies. And just as he did at Southern Hills and Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Woods now finds himself trailing the leader, Grant Waite (64), by an enormous margin. But more importantly, he finds himself behind more than half the field.

As expected, however, Woods immediately dismissed the notion that his nonexistent practice regimen and light recent schedule had left him competitively rusty.

"The last time I took three weeks off before the PGA, I won it," said Woods, referring to his victory at Medinah in 1999.

But before that PGA, he had spent the week beating balls on the range under the watchful eye of swing instructor Butch Harmon. In fact, that had been his practice routine before every U.S. major before he decided to spend last week watching TV and playing video games instead.

Despite his third straight poor start in a major, Woods once again put his customary rosy spin on the situation.

"I'm not that far off," said Woods, who actually is very far off in joint 100th place. "If I play a good round tomorrow, I should be able to get myself back in the tournament."

Splendid Schuller

Fairfax native Rick Schuller posted the round of the day among the 25 club professionals competing at the PGA Championship, carding an opening 68 on the Highlands Course.

Schuller, now a teaching pro at Willow Oaks Country Club in Richmond, actually earned himself a share of the lead at 4-under with a birdie at No. 6, his 15th hole of the day. But the muscular 38-year-old three-putted the seventh hole from 50 feet the minute TNT's horde of cameras caught up with him. He then closed his round with a luckless bogey at the ninth.

"It hurts to bogey two of the last three, but I really struck the ball well today," said Schuller, who watched his drive kick dead left into the rough on No. 9, hit his approach into a virtually unplayable lie in the back-left, greenside bunker, left his third shot in the bunker and then nearly holed his second bunker shot, which did a dance all the way around the cup before spitting out after a cruel 360.

"This golf course is right up my alley as far as being able to hit the driver and take advantage of my length," he said.

Few players on the property can terrorize a Titleist with a driver like Schuller, who averaged 298.5 yards off the tee yesterday, highlighted by a 320-yard bomb at No. 3. Schuller, who has also played in five Kemper Opens and two U.S. Opens (1986 and 1988), earned his place in the field with a 15th-place finish at the PGA Club Professional Championship in June.

"This is my first PGA Championship," said Schuller. "As a club pro, this is our big major, so just to get here I was thrilled to death… . Competing at this level is definitely a treat rubbing shoulders on the range with the likes of Tiger Woods and David Duval."

Thanks to his prodigious length, Schuller has been a force in the Middle Atlantic PGA Section for years, but his game couldn't quite carry him to the next level. During a Wednesday practice round, Paul Azinger told him he had the skills to play on the Tour. But Schuller has made six unsuccessful trips to Q-School and even tried a different route last year, grinding it around as a conditional player on the Buy.com Tour.

"I went through a year last year that I don't wish on anybody," Schuller said. "Financially, it was very difficult to get sponsors, because I was a conditional player… . [After the season], I was without a job for three or four months and actually went out and got an insurance license."

But Schuller found selling policies just as difficult, and far less fulfilling than 60-hour weeks giving lessons and shepherding country clubbers. So, he took an assistant's job at Willow Oaks and finally accepted his fate as a club pro. If he keeps pounding his way around Atlanta Athletic Club, he could finish the week as the most recognizable one in the country.

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