Tiger Woods pursed his lips and cursed under his breath as he stood over his first tee shot, feeling spasms in his back and knowing the sharp pain that was coming with each shot.
He yelped after his second drive. His knees buckled after making contact on the sixth tee. He stopped a half-dozen times and lifted his shirt so his caddie could rub heating cream between his shoulder blades.
What he didn't expect was the score -- a 4-under 68 that left Woods two shots behind British Open champion Todd Hamilton after one painful round in the American Express Championship yesterday in Thomastown, Ireland.
"I thought it might loosen up a little bit, but it didn't," Woods said. "I was hoping the spasms would go away, but that didn't happen, either. I just had to get through it somehow and post a number."
Woods hurt his back when he fell asleep in an awkward position while flying home from New York last week in his private plane. He said on the eve of the tournament that he might not be able to play, an injury report met with skepticism until he showed up on the practice range and went 20 minutes before taking a full swing.
By the end of a cool, overcast day at Mount Juliet, only the score next to his name looked normal.
"Quite nice," Hamilton said. "Even if the guy is healthy or hurt, he's got a big heart. He can be hitting the ball all over the place -- which he's done a lot lately -- and still shoot 2, 3, 4 under. The guy never gives up."
Injury aside, Woods was just one of the guys in a round where 48 of the 68 players in the $7 million World Golf Championship broke par.
The course played longer because of the damp air and soft fairways, but the greens at Mount Juliet are among the purest in golf and are always accommodating.
Hamilton took advantage with four straight birdies down the stretch before he made his only bogey of the day on the final hole, going from rough to rough and having to chip to four feet to limit the damage. He wound up with a 66 and a one-stroke lead over a half-dozen players.
"The putter felt good the whole day," Hamilton said. "If you can't putt on these greens, you can't putt, because the greens are spectacular."
Among those at 67 was Adam Scott, who made quite a turnaround. The 23-year-old Aussie couldn't make a 16-inch putt on the 11th, then couldn't miss and had five birdies on his final six holes.
"Just what I needed, a big finish like that," Scott said.
* PGA TOUR: John Senden closed his 7-under 65 with his second eagle of the round and shared the lead with Harrison Frazar and Glen Day after the first round of the Southern Farm Bureau Classic in Madison, Miss.
Frazar birdied his last two holes and Day had birdies on four of his first seven at the 7,199-yard Annandale Golf Club course.