Stricker, Furyk tied for lead

NORTON, Mass. (AP) - Jim Furyk thought his game was starting to turn the corner, and two solid days of practice made him believe even more. Even the evidence of low scores when he arrived at the TPC Boston didn't change his attitude.

Scott Verplank already was 5-under par through 10 holes. Steve Stricker was starting to hit his stride with five straight birdies around the turn, putting him atop the leaderboard.

"What I was going out there to do was keep myself in a good mental frame and just kind of stay out of the way, hit some good shots and build on it," Furyk said Friday.

The results were immediate at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

Furyk made a 15-foot birdie putt on the first hole, knocked in a pair of 6-foot birdie putts on the next two holes, then hit a driver that bounded on the green at the 294-yard fourth hole for a two-putt birdie.

He wasn't perfect, but he was close. Furyk missed only one fairway - barely - and hit all 18 greens on his way to an 8-under 63. It was his best round of the year, and two closing birdies were enough to tie Stricker for the lead.

Stricker played in the morning, also without a bogey, putting on quite a shot for Tiger Woods to continue his strong performance in the FedEx Cup playoffs. Stricker finished one shot out of a playoff last week at The Barclays, and his opening round at the Deutsche Bank Championship was his 26th time under par in 37 playoff rounds since the FedEx Cup began in 2007.

"I feel comfortable with my game the last three years since these playoffs have started," he said. "I'm sure that has a lot to do with it. I'm riding it out. It's been good, and I just wake up and try to do the same things every day."

Woods might wake up Saturday hopeful of something much better.

He missed five birdie chances inside 12 feet. He twice had to one-putt for a bogey. One tee shot was so far into the woods that he had to take a penalty drop. The world's No. 1 player wound up with a 70, putting him in a tie for 48th.

"I didn't really do much of anything positive today," Woods said. "I didn't feel good over any shot today. Didn't drive it very good, hit my irons worse and didn't make any putts. Other than that, it was a good day."

It was far better for Furyk and Stricker.

They had a two-shot lead over a group that included Masters champion Angel Cabrera, Justin Leonard, Retief Goosen and Verplank, who had dinner with Stricker on Thursday night and had a minor bout with food poisoning.

"I can't say that I've felt so terrible and shot that good," Verplank said. "Maybe I was concentrating more on putting one foot in front of the next one to get through the hole. Sometimes the faster you get the ball in the hole, the less time it takes to play. So that was good."

Stricker felt fine, and looked even better on the course.

It only took Woods two holes to pick up on that. Stricker made a 10-foot birdie at No. 10 to start his round, then hit a hybrid into 4 feet on the 237-yard 11th hole for another birdie.

Woods said to his caddie walking to the next tee, "He's going to shoot 62."

He was close.

"To get off to a birdie-birdie start just kind of got the day started in the right direction," Stricker said.

First came a wedge that spun back to 4 feet on the par-5 18th, followed by a 15-foot birdie on the first hole, then another wedge to a par 5 that stopped 4 feet away. The pin on the par-3 third hole was hidden behind a bunker, yet it was clear from the loud cheer that Stricker had hit another one stiff.

Woods hit his shot at No. 3 into about 10 feet, then flicked his broken tee at Stricker's elbow.

Like that was going to stop him.

Stricker found his ball a foot from the cup for a tap-in birdie, and finished off his birdie streak with a drive on the 294-yard fourth hole that just went over the back of the green. Having practice that putt up the slope on Thursday, knowing it was slow up to the green, he rapped it to 3 feet.

Woods and Stricker, coming off second-place ties last week at Liberty National, are friends and for years were managed by the same agent. There was a time that Stricker felt slightly intimidated by Woods, although those days are gone.

"He does some incredible things," Stricker said. "I guess I'm to the point where I'm comfortable with what I'm doing, and I'm not really worrying about him. He's going to hit those great shots and he's going to make those great putts. I can't do anything about that.

"He can do all those great things, and I'll just do the things that I need to do try to play well."

Stricker did all the right things on a splendid day of sunshine, as did Furyk.

Furyk was 4 under through four holes, and kept it all in perspective. He pretended as if his round had just started so he wouldn't be tempted to think too far ahead, and after settling into a diet of pars, finished with a flourish. He went for the green in two on the par-5 18th, just missed to the right and chipped to 4 feet for a final birdie.

The only finish that matters to Furyk is on Labor Day when the tournament hands out a trophy. He has not won since the Canadian Open two years ago, and it gnaws at him. Once No. 2 in the world, he has fallen to No. 13 in the ranking.

"I've had two pretty solid years," he said. "I wasn't able to win last year in '08, and I haven't been able to win this year in '09, and yeah, it absolutely eats at me," he said. "That being said, I wouldn't be a competitor, I would have a lot of trust in my game if it didn't bother me. But I'm at ease on the golf course."


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