Old Course brings back old Woods with a 66

He picks up where he left off there in 2000 to take 1-shot first-round lead

Fast start called `ominous'

Hensby is second

British Open

Golf

July 15, 2005|By Thomas Bonk | Thomas Bonk,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland - There are a series of signs along the side of the two-lane highway that leads into town from the west, and they serve to list some of the most infamous trouble spots on the Old Course. The first reads "Lion's Mouth," the next reads "Hell Bunker," then "Coffins," then "Valley of Sin."

The final sign? "Yawn."

The advertisement was provided by Nike Golf, which is all about Tiger Woods, who was all about teaching the Old Course some new tricks yesterday morning when he tossed a 6-under-par 66 at the place to grab the first-round lead of the British Open by one shot over Australian Mark Hensby.

Woods again mistreated the most revered course in golf. In his last five rounds here, he's a combined 25-under-par. Whether it matters or not, Woods is also a successful front-runner. He has won the past three majors he either led or was tied for the lead after the first round - the U.S. Open and PGA Championship in 2000 and the U.S. Open in 2002.

For at least one day, it was vintage Woods, trying to become only the second player to win all four majors at least twice. Jack Nicklaus, playing his last major here, is the other.

Woods averaged 339.5 yards off the tee, was 7-under through 12 holes, wormed his way out of three bunkers and finished with his lowest opening round in a major since his 65 at the 2000 U.S. Open, which he happened to win by 15 shots.

After looking at Woods' score, Colin Montgomerie sounded a warning.

"It's ominous who's on top of the board, ominous," he said. "Unfortunately. Not unfortunate for him, but unfortunate for me and the rest of the competitors.

"If there's a course built for him, it's this one. He won by eight shots last time here and who says he won't do it again?"

Nicklaus isn't going to say it. After he closed out his round of 75, Nicklaus was asked about Woods' fast start and he was blunt. "That's not fast for him, that's just a normal start."

And opening day on the Old Course was decidedly abnormal. Even with its added length, it played well short of its 7,279 yards because the fairways are so hard and fast.

"The course is longer but it's playing shorter because of the run on the fairways," Sandy Lyle said.

Woods led the plundering yesterday, but he had plenty of company.

Hensby, who tied for third at the U.S. Open, shot a 5-under-par 67, finished about six hours after Woods and is alone in second place. Retief Goosen, Luke Donald, Jose Maria Olazabal and Fred Couples lead a group of 10 who are tied for third at 68. Peter Lonard is in the mix at 68 after a roller-coaster round that featured seven birdies, an eagle, two double bogeys, one bogey and only seven pars.

Nicklaus' last major started with a birdie, ended with a par and in between featured three consecutive three-putts.

"I played a lot of decent shots," he said. "I'm a little disappointed in a 75, obviously."

What he needs to do today to make the cut is shoot about 4- or 5-under, said Nicklaus, who didn't want to think too far ahead about playing what might be the final round of his career and crossing the Swilcan Bridge for the last time at the Open Championship.

"I'm here to play golf first," he said. "I'll go out and see if I can shoot a good round tomorrow. I'd like to walk across that bridge on Sunday, not on Friday, so that's really my goal."

Yesterday when he walked up to the 18th green of the Old Course, trailed by a phalanx of cameramen, Nicklaus removed his cap and waved to the crowd in the grandstands as well as those who stuck their heads out the windows of the gray stone buildings that hug the fairways.

He did the same thing after he tapped in his putt, stopping to acknowledge the cheers with a wave before disappearing under the giant grandstand.

As for Goosen, he bounced back from his disappointment of the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, where he shot an 81 in the final round, which he started as the leader.

"Pinehurst is pretty much history," Goosen said. "Pinehurst has been completely forgotten."

Meanwhile, Woods only wants to remember the Old Course, probably because he's got such fond memories of the place. He said he isn't sure if he has the Old Course figured out as he did when he won here five years ago with a 19-under-par total. It's all about the wind, he said.

"I feel like I'm playing really well," he said. "I don't know if it's the same handle or not, but it's a different wind, two totally different winds ... two totally different golf courses. I still feel very comfortable out there."

He certainly played the part. Woods hit 14 of 18 greens in regulation, needed 27 putts, drove it so well he needed no more than a wedge into six holes and even found a way to combat the bunkers.

He landed in three of them, but played the three holes in only 1-over. In fact, the only time Woods appeared uncomfortable was after he was through with his round and revealed that his mother had been vacationing in a London hotel near one of the fatal bombing attacks.

Kultida Woods was not injured, but Woods said he didn't even know she was close to the scene until his coach, Hank Haney, found out and told Woods on Wednesday.

Play was halted at noon and two minutes of silence was observed to remember the victims.

"It very easily could have been pretty tragic for me personally," Woods said. "I can only imagine what everyone else who was involved, where they lost a loved one or had loved ones hurt, what they might have been going through."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

LEADER BOARD

SELECTED SCORES

Tiger Woods -6

Mark Hensby -5

Retief Goosen -4

Fred Couples -4

Michael Campbell -3

Vijay Singh -3

John Daly -1

Jack Nicklaus +3

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