HOUSTON, Nov. 1 (UPI) -- German Bernhard Langer, enjoying one of the best seasons of his career at the age of 44, shared the first-round lead at the Tour Championship with Frank Lickliter Thursday, but most of the attention was focused on an ailing Tiger Woods -- who shot a 1-under 70 despite persistent pain in his lower back.
Although he has twice won the Masters and keeps a home in Florida, Langer has tried to play both the United States and European tours over the past decade and it has been a constant grind.
This year, he decided to play most of his golf on the PGA Tour and that has led to him winning $1.6 million and a current standing of 24th on the money list.
He thus earned him a spot in this exclusive, season-ending event which is open only to the top 30 money earners on the tour.
He fired a 6-under 65 at the Champions Golf Club, a round that included birdies at the difficult 16th and 17th holes.
Lickliter, who has enjoyed a breakout season which sees him ranked 19th on the money list, shot a 4-under 31 on the back nine and birdied the final two holes for his 65.
Tied for third at 67 were Steve Lowery and Scott Verplank while Brad Faxon and Mike Weir were at 68. The superstar group at 69 included David Duval, Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, Tom Lehman, Justin Leonard and last week's winner Chris DiMarco.
Woods, seeking his sixth victory of the year but who has had only one top 10 finish in his last eight starts, played in the final pairing of the day with PGA Championship winner David Toms.
While on the practice tee Wednesday, Woods suffered a muscle pull or strain in his lower back. He had been in good form during the pro-am event on Tuesday, when he shot a 64.
The first hint of trouble came on the first tee, when he squatted down to put the tee in the ground instead of bending over from the waist.
At the second hole, his reached for his back with his right hand after hitting his tee shot. He winced in pain on a number of tee shots, but hung in and made three birdies against two bogeys to finish in a tie for 13th place.
"Yesterday afternoon it started acting up," Woods said. "It is one of those things. You just have to deal with it. I tried to play the best I could. I tried to slow my swing down."
Langer, who has a win in Europe this year but who has not won in the United States in eight years, said he finally decided he should commit to more golf in America.
"I've been thinking about it for many years," Langer said. "I have four kids here and I've always enjoyed being here. I have tried to go back and forth, but it was too much. Now with the major championships and world events counting toward the money list on both tours, it is easier.
"It is very tiring when you go back and forth."
Langer played in the inaugural Tour Championship in 1987 and had not played since until Thursday.
"I'm very happy to be back," he said. "It is a wonderful tournament. It is good to be in the top 30. It is something every player wants to achieve. I still have a lot of excitement left for golf. It is a game I will play the rest of my life."