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Low score glut excites players

Tiger Woods is typically the dominant talking point in the build-up to any USPGA Tour event where he competes but, amazingly, he has been upstaged ahead of this week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio.

Although the American world number one will be seeking a record eighth victory at one of his favourite venues, his bid for posterity has been totally overshadowed by the recent glut of low scoring on the US circuit.

Two magical 59s have been recorded on the PGA Tour during the past month, along with a pair of 60s, and these feats have sparked widespread and animated debate among players, caddies, fans, officials and golf writers.

There was barely a mention of Woods at Firestone Country Club yesterday, where eight players, including triple major winner Ernie Els and US Open champion Graeme McDowell, held their pre-tournament press conferences.

"Two (59s) in the last three weeks, and before that (there were) only three in the lifetime of the PGA Tour," South African Els said.

"It's starting to look like the Nationwide Tour," he added with a broad grin, referring to the US feeder circuit.

Australian Stuart Appleby (pictured) fired an 11-under-par 59 to win the Greenbrier Classic on Sunday, just three weeks after American Paul Goydos had posted the same score in the opening round of the John Deere Classic.

Prior to that, there had been only three previous 59s recorded on the PGA Tour, with Al Geiberger doing so in 1977, Chip Beck in 1991 and David Duval in 1999. While Els pointed out that soft course conditions had been a significant factor for the record-equalling scores by Goydos and Appleby, he was generous with his praise.

"I don't care if you play it on a pitch-and-putt course, to shoot that kind of number is a milestone in anybody's career, and you've got to give them credit," he said.

"And then we get to a beast like this, (Firestone). I would hate to see a 59 this week because then I'll know I'm playing a different game," he added with another grin.

The par-70 Firestone is a tough, tree-lined layout which generally bares its teeth with firm, fast-running greens.

Irishman McDowell, who recently shot a 59 while practising on his home Royal Portrush course, agreed.

"I think a 59 is about putting," he said. "You can only hit the golf ball so well. After that you've got to hole some putts.

"Out here (in the US) the weather is so much more consistent and they can get the greens to a much, much higher standard than we're used to in Europe, Asia and other places. It's conditioning of golf courses."

While Firestone has generally presented a tough challenge over the years, Woods has proved to be its master, with a record seven victories at the Bridgestone Invitational.

He shares the course record of 61 with Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal and the American triumphed last year, by four shots after closing with successive 65s.

"It's one of the best courses we play all year," said Woods, who is yet to win a PGA Tour title this season in seven starts. "Everything is right in front of you."

Woods is scheduled to tee off with British world number three Lee Westwood in tomorrow's opening round.