Woods still loving Kaua’i as he edges closer to fifth Slam title

POIPU – Tiger Woods says he loves coming back to Kaua’i each year to play in the PGA Grand Slam, and why wouldn’t he?

So far, he’s won it four times, and he appears to be well on his way to an unprecedented fifth title.

“Each and every time I’ve been here, I’ve always enjoyed it,” he said. “For one thing, I’ve had a pretty good year to come back.”

Woods, the winner of this year’s U.S. Open and Masters, soared to a 6-under 66 Tuesday to take a three shot lead over Justin Leonard in the first round at the Poipu Bay Golf Course on Kaua’i.

PGA Championship winner Rich Beem, sporting a colorful Hawaiian outfit to match his outgoing personality, finished the first day tied with Davis Love III at even-par 72.

Woods, who is playing in the tournament for a record sixth time, continued his dominance at Poipu with a bogey-free round. He hit a booming 343-yard drive on the second hole and then sank a 25-foot putt for eagle to begin his campaign for a fifth straight title at 2-under. He finished with four birdies on the day. He was at 3-under on a downwind front nine, with birdies on holes 4, 6, and 7, and maintained the rest of the way with eight pars and a birdie on 14.

“I thought I hit it well. I didn’t quite hit it as good on the back nine,” Woods said. “You know the front nine is going to be easier than the nine going out because it’s downwind, and you have to take advantage of those holes. I really did that.”

Leonard improved upon his performance in the 1997 Grand Slam, when he finished 16 shots behind winner Ernie Els and was knocked out of contention on the first day. But yesterday, Leonard was far from out after shooting a 3-under 69, although missed putts on holes 16 and 17 kept him from closing in on Woods.

“I’m disappointed in not taking advantage of the opportunities I had,” Leonard said. 16 and 17 are two perfect examples, and then there was some putts on the front nine that I had really good chances at. It’s disappointing not to be any closer, not to have shot a better score.”

Love also struggled on Poipu’s treacherous back nine. After opening the first nine holes tied for second at 3-under, he went on to record four bogies to fall behind. Love, whose playing the Grand Slam for his third time, says poor wedge shots cost him crucial strokes down the stretch.

“I started off fairly well and then finished poorly,” he said. “I didn’t hit good wedge shots all day. I have my old wedges that I kind of wore down that were in a locker. I have to find something else.”

For Beem, even-par wasn’t a great performance, but he’s enjoying himself nonetheless.

“Well, after I had the lead on the first hole, I was pretty confident in my chances,” Beem joked. “And all of a sudden it went down from there. I didn’t hit the ball well all day and didn’t putt very well either. Not too exciting of a round today for me.”

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