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Practice partner Atwal eclipses Woods

Although Arjun Atwal of India has won 10 times around the world and has played in more than 100 PGA Tour events, he is not among the tour's most recognisable players.
By Larry Dorman (New York Times) | None, Newtown Square
UPDATED ON JUL 03, 2010 12:35 AM IST

Although Arjun Atwal of India has won 10 times around the world and has played in more than 100 PGA Tour events, he is not among the tour's most recognisable players. But Atwal, perhaps best known as Tiger Woods's regular practice-round partner, made good use of the sponsor exemption that Woods helped him get and shot a 66 on Thursday to tie for the lead in the AT&T National at Aronimink Golf Club.

Atwal, who birdied seven holes and bogeyed three, was tied with Joe Ogilvie, the Australian Jason Day and Nick Watney at four under par. A group of six players was tied at 67, including the late finishers Ryan Moore and Carl Pettersson of Sweden.

Woods, the defending champion and de facto tournament host, struggled with his putting on the back nine and finished at three-over-par 73, tied for 81st in the 120-player field.

“I hit it good all day and made absolutely nothing today,” said Woods, who is playing his last warm-up before the British Open at St. Andrews, Scotland, in two weeks. “I just putted awful, really. My speed was good, but I never hit the ball on line. It was a very frustrating day on the greens, especially how good I was driving it, how I was driving it on a string all day.”

Woods's frustrations were in contrast to the pleasant surprise Atwal received shortly after he went off with the first group at 7:20 a.m. He had played poorly last week in Cromwell, Conn., hitting the ball “really bad” and finishing tied for 64th, and he did not have high hopes for his game.

But after a three-putt bogey at No. 1, Atwal reeled off three straight birdies, hitting his approaches on Nos. 2-4 to 6 feet, 11 feet and 8 feet and making the putts that jump-started his lowest opening round of the year by three strokes.

“I didn't know what to expect,” said Atwal, who is playing on a minor medical extension this year after injuring his shoulders and has to make about $280,000 in his next three events to play the rest of the year. “But it was a bit of a surprise.”

His first surprise came when Woods called him last week to tell him he was in this event, a limited field tournament with a $6 million purse. The two had been discussing schedules two weeks ago at the United States Open. Woods asked him why he was not playing in the AT&T and Atwal told him he did not have the status to get in.

Woods pressed him and asked if he had written a letter to the tournament asking for an exemption. When Atwal said no, Woods said he would try to get him in the tournament if one of the players with an exemption decided not to play.

“And then he called me last week and told me I was in,” Atwal said.

Randhawa tied fifth

India’s Jyoti Randhawa's four-under 67 put him in tied fifth place, even as Jeev Milkha Singh and Shiv Kapur carded one-under 70 each at the opening round of the Alstom Open de France on Friday. IANS

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