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      Woods much improved at Whistling Straits

      Tiger Woods chips out of the rough on the 12th hole during the first round of the PGA Championship golf tournament Thursday, Aug. 12, 2010, at Whistling Straits in Haven, Wis. / AP Photo

      SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (AP) " When the fog finally lifted at the PGA Championship, there was Tiger Woods.

      Not the Woods whose personal life is in shambles and his game not much better. The one who ruled golf with 14 majors " and counting.

      Woods briefly climbed into a share of the lead with three birdies in his first four holes Thursday. But he bogeyed his sixth hole and came up just short on three birdie putts to make the turn at 2 under, two strokes behind Charles Howell III and Jason Day.

      Phil Mickelson, who could take the world No. 1 ranking from Woods this week, tees off later Thursday with U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell and British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen. Playing two groups ahead of them are Stricker, the Wisconsin native and No. 4 player in the world, and Rory McIlroy, who tied a major championship record with a 63 in the first round of the British Open.

      Seeing Woods atop the leaderboard so early at a tournament, even a major, wouldn't ordinarily count as big news.

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      But there is nothing ordinary about Woods these days.

      While his personal life is starting to "normalize" after nine months of tawdry details of infidelities, his game has never been lower. Woods arrived at Whistling Straits fresh off the worst performance of his career, shooting a whopping 18-over 298 and beating only one player in the 80-man field at Firestone " a course where he's won seven times. He's broken par in only four of his last 20 rounds, and is in danger of losing the No. 1 ranking he's held for a record 270 weeks in a row.

      The PGA has a history of producing unexpected winners, and Woods' woes have just about everyone in the locker room thinking this might be their week to break through.

      Not so fast.

      Woods looked relaxed during the fog delay that pushed tee times back 3 hours and 10 minutes Thursday morning, at one point bouncing a ball off his club while he talked with other players on the putting green. And when he finally got on the course, it was just like old times.

      Starting on the back nine, he birdied the first two holes. He flew the green on the par-3 No. 12 and landed in some thick grass, but chipped within five feet and made the putt to save par. Another birdie on 13 moved him into the lead, but he slid back with his first bogey.

      Woods blew a chance to get the stroke back " and then some " on the par-5 16th. He almost putted out for eagle from just off the green on the par-5 16th, but his ball skipped over the hole. He had only a 3-footer for birdie, but pushed it just a touch to the right and had to settle for par.

      He thought his birdie putt from the far side of the green was going in on the par-3 17th, holding up his putter in triumph. But the ball stopped less than an inch from the hole, and Woods let the club slip down through his fingers before taking a long look at it.

      Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.