Sergio Garcia Leads British Open

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 26, 2005

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Instead of charging, Tiger Woods got in trouble on his very first swing of the day at the British Open. Woods yanked his opening shot into the Barry Burn, looking on in disbelief as the ball dribbled into the ominous, meandering stream. He then limped to the midway point of Friday’s second round with a seven-shot gap between him and leader Sergio Garcia.

The world’s best player had plenty of work to do if he wants to become the first player in more than a half-century to win a third straight Open championship.

K.J. Choi, who has two PGA Tour wins in the last two months, was making the most spirited run at Garcia. The South Korean got to 3 under for the round with two holes to play, pulling within one shot of the leader.

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Garcia followed a brilliant 6-under 65 with a workmanlike 71, sinking the sort of testy putts that have bedeviled him through his career.

“I managed to not make many mistakes,” he said. “I didn’t play as well as yesterday, but I was quite consistent.”

Not so for Woods.

After opening with a fine 69, he stepped to the first tee with an iron in his hand, intending to play if safe on the 406-yard hole. The burn curls in front of the fairway, then fades away down the left side _ not much of a threat unless a player really messes up.

Woods did, his right hand flying off the club as a course worker frantically waved behind him, signaling the ball was heading left. Way left.

It bounced a few times and hopped into the creek.

Woods managed a weak, pitiful smile and slowly shook his head as he looked at his yardage book. He needed to play off the tee again and wound up with a double-bogey 6 on the hole, a grim start to a 3-over 39 on the front side that knocked him off the leaderboard.

Phil Mickelson wasn’t anywhere close to the lead. In fact, Lefty was in danger of heading home after a 77 sent him beyond the projected cut line.

“I thought I was playing a lot better than this,” moaned Mickelson, a two-time Masters champion who has only one top-10 finish at the Open.

He had to take a one-stroke penalty at No. 2 after his ball plugged into the soggy turf. On the PGA Tour, he could have taken relief for an imbedded lie, but not under the Royal & Ancient rules.

At the 18th, Mickelson lost two more strokes. He drove into the Barry Burn, wound up missing a 3-foot putt and took double bogey, signing for a 6-over 148.

Garcia had his eyes on a bigger prize than just making the cut.

After making seven birdies Thursday on a course that reduced him to tears eight years ago, the emotional Spaniard settled for a nice, solid round on Day 2, which began under ashen skies but morphed into a brilliantly sunny afternoon along the North Sea.

A year ago, Garcia played with Woods in the final group Sunday but never seriously challenged for the championship, fading to a tie for fifth.

Now, it’s Woods chasing Garcia, who has switched to a longer putter that lodges in his belly. The new club seems to be working; other than a three-putt bogey at No. 4, Garcia’s stroke on the green was confident and true.

“I just feel a bit more comfortable than I did with the little putter,” he said. “Under pressure, I think I can put a better stroke on it.”

Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez had one of the best shots of the day, nearly making a hole-in-one at the daunting, 248-yard 16th. His tee shot stopped just inches beyond the cup for a tap-in birdie, on the way to a 70 that had the “Mechanic” solidly in contention for his first major title.

Garcia, Jimenez and all the other Europeans are trying to break the continent’s eight-year drought in the majors. Scotland’s Paul Lawrie was the last to win one, at this very course in the ’99 Open _ which, of course, is mostly remembered for its brutal conditions and Jan Van de Velde squandering a three-shot lead on the 72nd hole.

Paul McGinley, a Ryder Cup stalwart for Europe, was heading the same direction as Woods. The Irishman followed up Thursday’s 67 by playing the first six holes at 3 over.

Boo Weekley, a country boy from the Florida Panhandle, was making quite a splash in his first Open. He may be scared to drive on the left side of the road and not that impressed with British cuisine, but he was doing just fine at Carnoustie with a 2-under 140 total that put him four strokes behind Garcia.

Weekly got as low as 4 under before back-to-back bogeys at 15 and 16 pushed him to a 72.

Wearing camouflage long johns under his golf attire, Weekley was asked about his impressions of the British Open growing up. “I don’t watch golf,” he replied. “If it ain’t huntin’ and fishin’, it don’t interest me.”

First-day sensation Rory McIlroy, an 18-year-old amateur, struggled to a 76 after rousing the galleries with a a bogey-free 68. Still, the star-in-the-making from Holywood, Northern Ireland, was sure to make the cut in his first Open.

“Just to play the weekend at the Open is fantastic,” he said. “Hopefully I can enjoy the next couple of days and play some good golf.”

A service of the Associated Press(AP)