For Woods, path open to victory

He builds 6-shot lead at British, closes in on career Grand Slam

Duval, Bjorn tied for 2nd

Woods has shot at tourney record

July 23, 2000|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland - Maybe Tom Morris - Old or Young, take your pick - can be raised from the dead to play Tiger Woods on their terms with their clubs at their Old Course.

Maybe Tom Watson, one of only three men in history to win the British Open five times, can have a few strokes taken off his scorecard here and a couple of decades given back to his game.

Or maybe, as Nick Faldo suggested before the 129th Open began Thursday, Tiger Woods should just play blindfolded. It might be the only way for Faldo's Open scoring record to survive today's final round.

It also might be the only way for anybody else to have a chance.

If not for a couple of sloppy putts yesterday, Woods might have shot better than 5-under-par 67 and, at 16-under-par 200 over 54 holes, have more than a six-shot lead over David Duval and Thomas Bjorn of Denmark.

As it is, it seems certain that Woods, 24, will win his second straight major championship and become the youngest player to complete a career Grand Slam. He will be the fifth do so, joining legends Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.

Given his remarkable 18-2 record when tied or leading a tournament going into the final round, and given the way Woods finished yesterday with four birdies on the last seven holes, the thought of a collapse is not in anyone's head. Except, perhaps, Woods'.

"I think anytime you have a lead, you feel a certain amount of pressure," said Woods. "The bigger the lead, the more pressure you feel. Obviously, if you don't end up winning, you're going to feel not so good about yourself at the end of the day that you let a wonderful opportunity go.

"I've had big leads and I've been able to succeed before, but we'll see tomorrow."

Woods is certainly getting accustomed to being in this position after three rounds in a major. He led last month's U.S. Open by 10 strokes, winning by a record 15. He led the 1997 Masters by nine strokes and won by a record 12. He shared a two-shot lead in last year's PGA Championship, and won by one.

As he did last month at Pebble Beach, Woods has a chance to erase some of the game's greatest players from the record books.

Start with Nicklaus, who was 26 when he finished his first career Grand Slam. Add Faldo, whose score of 18-under-par 270 was shot here 10 years ago. Woods can now go after Old Tom Morris' record for margin of victory in a British Open, 13 shots set in 1862. He already took the legendary Morris - the patron saint of this hallowed ground - out of the books for the largest margin of victory in a major.

Told by a British journalist that Faldo "fears" his record being broken, Woods laughed.

"I don't think he fears it, I know Nick doesn't fear it, that's for sure," said Woods, who will also be looking for his sixth victory of the season, the 21st of his four-year career and the 13th in his last 23 events. "Whatever happens, happens. I'm going to go out there and play the best I can. If I break it, so be it. If I don't, so be it."

Asked if he has ever lost a six-shot lead at any point in his career as an amateur or a pro, Woods said, "A six-shot lead? I don't believe so. Can I? Yeah, that's possible. I'd have to go out there and not exactly execute the shots and David [Duval] or someone else like Thomas or someone else at 8 or 9 [under] has to play a wonderful round of golf."

Duval, the world's second-ranked player, did that yesterday with a 6-under-par 66 that included a 6-foot birdie on the final hole. It put Duval, still looking for his first major championship, into the final pairing, if not quite into serious contention.

"I most definitely wanted to make that putt," said Duval, 28, who will also be looking to end a 16-month winless drought that came after he won 11 times in 34 events. "I just wanted to be there."

So did David Toms for the second straight day. But after getting to within a stroke of the lead when he birdied and Woods bogeyed the par-4 second hole - breaking a streak of 63 straight holes in a major without a bogey - the 33-year-old American failed to hold ground by shooting 1-under-par 71.

At 9-under-par 207, Toms is tied with Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland (68) and PGA Tour veteran Loren Roberts (70). Four others are eight shots behind: former British Open champion Tom Lehman (70), two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els (70, including a double-bogey on the short, par-4 13th), left-hander Steve Flesch and Dennis Paulson.

The normally affable Els, who had the dubious distinction of finishing tied for a distant second at the U.S. Open this year, was so disappointed that he left the grounds without comments. Others who stuck around to talk had some of the same feeling of helplessness when it comes to competing against Woods.

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