Woods' game is under weather

10-over 81 is worst round of pro career, dashes his bid for Grand Slam

`I'm certainly disappointed'

Tiger is 11 shots behind on cold, wet day

Els leads Hansen by 2 strokes

2002 British Open

July 21, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

GULLANE, Scotland -- Tiger Woods said here last week that he wanted the wind to blow off the North Sea and that he wouldn't mind if a little rain fell on Muirfield for the 131st British Open.

Even the world's best player should be careful what he wishes for from the golfing gods.

In a round that was perhaps as memorable -- or forgettable -- as any he has played in his legendary career, Woods shot himself out of contention for a chance at a third straight major championship this year and, more importantly, the Grand Slam.

On a wet, cold and generally miserable afternoon on the craggy east coast of Scotland, Woods finished with his highest round ever as a pro -- a 10-over-par 81 -- to open the door for the rest of those left in contention, particularly Ernie Els of South Africa.

Els, a two-time U.S. Open champion who was runner-up to Woods in the British Open two years ago at St. Andrews as well as several other times in recent years, survived a shaky start to recover for a 1-over 72 for a three-round total of 5-under 208. It gave Els a two-stroke lead over Soren Hansen of Denmark.

Seven others -- Sergio Garcia of Spain, former British Open champion Justin Leonard, Shigeki Maruyama of Japan, PGA Tour journeyman Scott McCarron, Thomas Bjorn of Denmark and a pair of European Tour favorites, 20-year-old Justin Rose of England and 49-year-old Des Smyth of Ireland -- are three back.

From the standpoint of entering today's final round with confidence, the fact that Els leads Woods by 11 strokes was perhaps the biggest hurdle that was removed for a player who has gone to a sports psychologist to help him get over his Tigerphobia.

"It means a lot, believe me. You would know that," said Els, 32, who once lost an eight-stroke lead to Woods in the final round in a tournament in Thailand. "I've got to look at the other guys now."

Els admitted this was new territory for him in a major, considering that Woods had won seven of the past 11. "I think today for the first time, I really didn't think a lot about Tiger," Els said. "Other days, when it might have been calmer, you look at the leader board and wait for his charge or listen to the crowd or whatever. But to be honest, he was just the furthest thing from my mind. Today wasn't a day for Tiger-watching for us."

It didn't seem Els would be anywhere near the lead the way he started yesterday's round. Sharing the lead with four others at 6-under going into the day, Els bogeyed four of the first six holes, including three straight in one stretch.

But he gained some confidence with a par-saving putt on the 10th hole, then made birdies on the 12th and 13th. After a bogey on the 14th hole, Els made birdies on the 16th and 17th to separate himself from the field.

"It was very difficult today, especially the front nine," Els said. "It was one of the toughest conditions I've seen in an Open championship. ... To be honest I never thought I would get to 5-under. I thought 76 or 77 would have been a hell of a score."

That Els took control of the tournament was certainly not as shocking as Woods playing himself out of contention.

"Anytime Tiger shoots over par is surprising," said McCarron, whose 1-over 72 kept him in contention. "These conditions are so tough, you're seeing the best players in the world, possibly the best to ever play the game, have a difficult day. It can make anybody look silly out there."

And Woods looked silly, or at least human. He sprayed tee shots into the weeds and used his clubs as a scythe when he barely could get out, twice angrily swiping at the grass. He even took two shots to get out of a bunker on the par-3 13th, leading to his second double-bogey.

It got so bad for Woods that when he finally made a birdie on the par-5 17th hole -- after seven bogeys and two double-bogeys, including a front nine of 6-over 42 -- Woods raised his arms in mock celebration and punched fists with playing partner and close friend Mark O'Meara.

"At least I didn't get shut out," Woods joked later.

But he was clearly dismayed by his worst performance as a professional.

His score was two strokes higher than what he shot under similar conditions in the 1996 Australian Open, three higher than any round he shot in a PGA Tour event and four higher than his worst score in a major.

"I'm certainly disappointed, frustrated in a way that I wasn't able to hit the ball today, and on top of that I didn't make any putts again, so it was a tough day," said Woods, who followed a 77 in the third round of the 1998 Open at Royal Birkdale with a final-round 66 to finish third.

Asked about the fact that he normally relishes playing in nasty weather, Woods said, "It's a challenge, but if you're swinging well, you can play under these conditions. If you're playing in conditions like this, and you're not hitting the ball solidly and you're not making those par putts, your score is going to add up."

Woods found himself in good company.

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