Holder Woods sets Doral pace with opening 64
MIAMI, Mar 3 (Reuters) Tiger Woods made the perfect start to his Doral Championship title defence, moving one shot clear with an eight-under-par 64 in the opening round here.
The world number one, who overhauled Phil Mickelson in a gripping last-day duel 12 months ago, reeled off eight birdies in a blemish-free display at Doral's Blue Course.
Bidding for his third victory of the year in five starts, Woods picked up shots at three of the first four holes before covering the back nine in five-under 31.
That left him one ahead of fellow Americans Mickelson, 2002 US PGA champion Rich Beem, Ryan Palmer and Mark Wilson, plus PGA Tour rookie Camilo Villegas of Colombia.
Among the other big names, Sony Open winner David Toms was one of five players who opened with 66s while world number two Vijay Singh returned a 67.
Davis Love III, who lost to Australia's Geoff Ogilvy in the final of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship at La Costa on Sunday, and Ireland's Padraig Harrington were among a group on 68.
Spaniard Sergio Garcia, the world number six, birdied his final hole for a 69 while twice US Open champion Retief Goosen, the world number three, carded a 70.
However, fourth-ranked Ernie Els finished eight strokes off the pace, offsetting four birdies with four bogeys for a level-par 72 in his first appearance at Doral since his 2002 triumph.
Nine of the world's top 10 are playing this week at the Blue Course, where the tournament is being held for the final time as a regular tour stop.
Next year, it will be replaced by the elite WGC-CA Championship, one of four World Golf Championships (WGC) events held during the season for the world's top 64 players.
REUTERS DH RAI0555