Four shots off lead keeps Tiger on course

Posted: July 20, 2007

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland - When Tiger Woods opens a major by shooting two rounds in the 60s, he has never lost. You can look it up.

If they're etching his name onto another Claret Jug on Sunday, he will become the first man in a little more than a half-century to win the same major three consecutive years. Yesterday, playing early, the best golfer of his time opened with a 2-under-par 69 on a Carnoustie course that is much more user-friendly than it was at the 1999 British Open. That left him four off the pace through 18 holes of the third major of the year. In case you missed it, he finished second in the first two.

Somehow, you get the impression four straight runners-up is not the kind of grand slam he has in mind.

Eight years ago, he carded a 74 on Thursday, and followed with a 72. Of course, that was 11 major victories ago.

In 2005 at St. Andrews, he started 66-67. Last July at Hoylake, it was 67-65. But even a kinder, gentler Carnoustie is still a different beast.

"It's very satisfying to shoot 69 in these conditions," said Tiger, who opened with a 73 at the Masters in April, and a 71 at last month's U.S. Open. "My three practice rounds, they had three different winds. Today was slightly different [once again]. You had to adjust, and play [yardage] and where your ball needs to be."

A year ago on a firm, slick track, his driver never made it out of the bag. These links are relatively soft. Months of rain will do that. So this time, he used the driver, albeit sparingly. Yet like last year, his irons were mostly precise.

The way he played, particularly on the front nine, 69 was probably about the worst he could have shot. He made the turn in 33 before bogeying Nos. 12, where he found a bunker, and 13, where he flew the green and followed with a pedestrian chip. He then parred the par-5 14th, which for him is almost like giving away another stroke. But he navigated the treacherous closing stretch in 1-under, making a 100-foot birdie putt at the par-3 16th and nearly making another bird at 18 from 25 feet, which would have felt like an eagle.

Did we mention that he eagled the par-5 sixth, when he used the wind to help draw a 7-iron well over 200 yards to within 18 feet? Kids, don't try this at home.

"It doesn't compare to '99," he said. "I think all the players can attest to that who played in '99 . . .

"Coming [home] in 1-under was a huge bonus."

As opposed to, say, one of his playing partners, England's Justin Rose, who played that stretch in 4-over for a 75.

Asked whether his strategy will change today, Tiger stated the obvious: "I don't know. It all depends on the wind."

So, you think he has one more 60-something in him today? Or will it at least develop into a fair fight?

Tap-ins

Twenty-four players broke par in yesterday's first round. In 1999, not one player did that . . . John Daly, who somehow won this thing in 1995 at St. Andrews, was alone in first after 11 holes, at 5-under. He'd just made an eagle 2 by holing out from the fairway. So naturally, he then made a double-bogey 6 at 12, followed by a par 3, followed by a triple-bogey on the par-5 14th. He proceeded to bogey three of the last four holes for a 74. Shockingly, he departed without talking . . .

Twenty-four players broke par in yesterday's first round. In 1999, not one player did that . . . , who somehow won this thing in 1995 at St. Andrews, was alone in first after 11 holes, at 5-under. He'd just made an eagle 2 by holing out from the fairway. So naturally, he then made a double-bogey 6 at 12, followed by a par 3, followed by a triple-bogey on the par-5 14th. He proceeded to bogey three of the last four holes for a 74. Shockingly, he departed without talking . . .

Paul Lawrie, who won this thing right here in 1999 when Jean Van de Velde couldn't, also played with Tiger Woods. And he birdied the last hole for a 73. Since that victory, his best finish in this major was a tie for 42nd, in 2001. He's missed the cut three of the last four years . . . Remember Rod Pampling? In 1999, he led after one round, with an even-par 71. He then posted 86 on Friday, to miss the cut, the only time that's happened in a major. This time he opened with a 70. "I guess it should cross my mind tomorrow," he said, "but I'm not worried about that just yet" . . . Those tied at 2-under with Woods are K.J. Choi, who just won Tiger's inaugural tournament in Bethesda, Md., Padraig Harrington, Stewart Cink and Miguel Angel Jiminez . . .

Twelve golfers are at 70, including Jim Furyk, Retief Goosen and Luke Donald. West Chester's Sean O'Hair, who's finished in the top 15 in his first two Opens, shot 71. As did Phil Mickelson. *

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