LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Tiger Woods broke clean from the starting gate Thursday in his quest for golf's version of the Triple Crown.
In this home of thoroughbred racing, Woods carded a 6-under 66 and is tied for the lead after the opening round of the 82nd PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club.
Journeyman pro Scott Dunlap also shot a 66. He and Woods have a two-shot advantage on Davis Love III and Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke, while four golfers are three shots behind.
Eighteen golfers failed to finish their rounds Thursday when play was suspended by darkness at 8:27 p.m. They will return this morning at 9:15 to complete the first round.
Woods, who has won the U.S. Open and British Open this year, is aiming for his third straight major victory. The only other golfer to accomplish the feat was Ben Hogan, who did it in 1953.
As the defending PGA champion, Woods also has a shot at becoming the event's first repeat winner since Denny Shute turned the trick in 1936-37.
"I haven't looked at it that way," said Woods, who made four consecutive birdies in the middle of his round. "I have looked at the fact that I am trying to win a PGA Championship and a major. Where the chips may fall after that, let them fall."
Jack Nicklaus, paired with Woods for the first time in competition, said the 24-year-old who is ranked No. 1 in the world could have shot even lower.
"He shot the easiest 66," Nicklaus said. "Phenomenal control, phenomenal concentration. It was a real treat to watch."
Woods did miss several makable birdie putts on the back nine but escaped bogey with a 20-foot par save on the 17th.
"I definitely left a few out there. But then again, I also made some good putts for par," Woods said. "Any time you can shoot 66 in a major championship, you are going to be happy."
Woods birdied all four par-5s, totaling seven for the day. His lone bogey came on the par-4 fifth, where he dumped his approach into a greenside bunker.
Playing on what locals would describe as a fast and firm track, those with early morning tee times had the best chance to tame the 7,167-yard Valhalla layout. Each of the four players at the top teed off before 10:30 a.m.
Dunlap, who lives in Duluth, Ga., just outside of Atlanta, never has won on the PGA Tour. However, he has three wins overseas.
"I spent all last week sitting on a couch battling a cold," said Dunlap, who turned 37 Wednesday. "So I really wasn't sure what to expect out there."
A front-nine 32 was highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 second hole. On the back nine, Dunlap birdied both of the par-5s to complete his 66.
After playing on tours in South Africa, Canada, Europe and South America, Dunlap has been a regular on the PGA Tour since 1996.
After opening with a 68 at last month's British Open, he missed the cut with a 78 the next day. Being tied for the lead with Woods is not his top concern; he wants to play solid today and "take it from there."
"He has won the last two majors by 23 shots," Dunlap said. "I mean, if he is going to do it, he is going to do it. There is no stopping him."
Should Woods stumble on his way to the finish line, he has a slew of players in position to catch him. Chief among them are Clarke and Love, two players with very different records in head-to-head battles with Woods.
"This is another tournament. This is completely different," said Clarke, who beat Woods 4 and 3 in the Andersen Consulting Match Play Championship earlier this year. "To give myself the chance to compete against the world's No. 1, that would be fantastic. But there is a long way to go yet."
Clarke's 68 included six birdies against two bogeys.
Love, who has a history of not playing his best when Woods is challenging him, also shot 68. He made an eagle on the par-5 seventh hole to get into subpar figures, then closed with a 34 on the back nine.
"I try not to pay any attention to what other players are doing," said Love, a Sea Island, Ga., resident. "I just play my own game and get lost in my own little world out there a little bit."
Winless since the 1998 MCI Classic, the former PGA champion has played well this year in several events. After losing to Woods 5 and 4 in the Andersen semifinals, Love has three second-place finishes.
"I am playing very, very well," he said. "I need to just stay focused on that and just play."
The group at 69 includes Edward Fryatt, Fred Funk, Stephen Ames and J.P. Hayes.
South African Ernie Els, who has finished second in all of this year's majors, was well off the pace with a 2-over 74.
Reach John Boyette at (706) 823-3337 email@example.com.
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