Cold-hot Woods weathers round 2 Birdie-birdie finish keeps him within shot despite elements, putts

July 18, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

SOUTHPORT, England -- Normalcy returned to the 127th British Open yesterday at Royal Birkdale. The second round was a meteorological roller coaster, beginning with rain, ending with sun and interspersed with 30-mph winds as well as a little sleet that briefly suspended play.

The weather also caused havoc somewhere else -- on the leader board.

First-round co-leader Tiger Woods, who felt the brunt of the front moving in off the Irish Sea, started at 5-under and fell to even par through 15 holes. But after failing to convert several chances, Woods made birdie putts on the last two holes.

A 3-over-par 73 left Woods one shot behind second-round leader Brian Watts.

Woods is tied with playing partner Nick Price, the 1994 Open champion, and 17-year-old amateur Justin Rose of England. The final two putts also left Woods with a big smile, knowing how close he came to falling out of contention.

"It's fun when you can finish birdie-birdie," said Woods, 22. "The fact that I was 4-over at the turn, I hit a lot of good shots. I had put myself in position to make a lot of birdies and I didn't. It's a matter of giving myself some more chances and they finally fell."

The two closing birdies, from six and 12 feet, respectively, came shortly after he had bogeyed the par-5 15th hole. They gave Woods his best chance to win another major championship since his history-making 12-shot victory at the Masters last year.

But Woods would not go to bed last night thinking about what he would say in accepting the old claret jug come Sunday. He might be checking the forecasts that call for more of the same weather -- "changeable" the British call it -- for the weekend.

"If your mind goes, your game goes," said Woods. "More than anything I've just got to go out and keep playing smart. There's still a lot of golf left to be played and a lot of things can still happen. I want to go out and set myself up for Sunday and then go out Sunday and play a great round."

Price also is giving himself the best opportunity to win a major since he won two in succession four years ago, the Open at Turnberry followed by the PGA Championship at Southern Hills. An eagle 3 on the par-5 17th hole helped Price recover a couple of shots in a round of 2-over 72. As the two walked up the 18th fairway, Price and Woods could be seen laughing, happy to get such a difficult day over with on a good note.

"I said to him, 'It's nice for us to get under par on one hole,' " recalled Price, 41. "It's not much fun being shut out, you know."

Others were. Fred Couples started the day one shot behind Woods and John Huston (77 yesterday) and wound up with a 4-over 74, in a group of six at even-par 140 that includes reigning Masters champion Mark O'Meara (68), reigning PGA champion Davis Love III (73) and Jim Furyk. Defending champion Justin Leonard barely made the cut at 6-over 146 and was nine shots back after his second straight 73.

And some prominent names were left out for the weekend. Colin Montgomerie of Scotland continued his run of disappointing Opens, missing the cut for the third time in four years, this time by a shot. Tom Lehman, who won the Open two years ago but injured his shoulder in a freak accident earlier this week, missed the cut by four. John Daly, the 1995 champion, took a 10 on the final hole after making five swings in the bunker. He missed by five.

A number of European players also are in contention to break their continent's five-year drought in the British Open, and win for the first time at Birkdale in the eight Opens here. Thomas Bjorn of Denmark was two shots behind at 1-under 139 after a 1-over 71, while Jesper Parnevik of Sweden, whose final-round NTC collapse opened the door for Leonard last year at Royal Troon, was in the group at even-par after a 2-over 72.

"I think this is the one you want to win," said Bjorn, 27, who has missed the cut in his two previous Opens. "I always thought my game suits the American majors a little better, but this is the biggest one, the one with the most tradition. This is where the great players have been and done it."

Except, that is, for the two players who will fill the final twosome for today's third round. Watts, a former four-time All-American at Oklahoma State who played briefly on the PGA Tour, has missed the cut three times in his five previous Opens and has finished no higher than a tie for 40th at St. Andrews in 1995. Rose, who left school at 16 and plans to turn pro shortly, is playing in his first Open.

A 1-under-par 69 by Watts that included playing the back nine with two birdies and no bogeys was later overshadowed by Rose's remarkable 4-under-par 66, the day's best round, which included a 50-foot birdie putt on the par-4 ninth hole and a 10-footer for eagle at 17. Neither player came here with high expectations.

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