MANY Americans treat him with total disrespect. But not Tiger Woods. With a mountain to climb in the final two rounds of the 143rd Open Championship – he trails leader Rory McIlroy by 14 shots – the American immediately thought of Paul Lawrie.
“I’m pretty far back,” admitted Woods after holing a testing four-footer at the last to make the halfway cut on the mark, having carded a second-day 77 to sit on two-over-par. “Luckily, I’ve got two rounds to go. And, hopefully, I can do something like Paul did in ’99 (at Carnoustie). He made up ten in one day (in the last round). Hopefully I can play well on the weekend and at least give myself a shot at going to the back nine on Sunday.”
Woods, the winner here eight years ago, put himself in danger of an early exit after running up a triple-bogey 7 at the 17th, where he whacked one out of bounds. Earlier, he’d got off to the worst possible start by taking a double-bogey 6 at the first.
Having decided to be more “aggressive” on two day, he hit driver there. It was a big mistake as he ended up closer to the 18th fairway than the one he was aiming for. He missed the green to the right with his second then, appearing to be rushing things for no apparent reason, he played a clumsy chip that shot over the other side of the green close to a grandstand. It was tousy stuff, to say the least. He also dropped a shot at the second after his drive there found more rough, this time on the right.
“I got off to a terrible start again,” admitted Woods. “I had some opportunities to make a few birdies along the way to get back to even par for the day but I just never made anything. I had myself in good positions to make birdies and I just didn’t do it.”
Eight years ago, the 14-times major winner used his driver just once in 72 holes in claiming a third Claret Jug. It was used more than that in just two holes yesterday and was pulled out the bag quite often thereafter, too.
“I was trying to be more aggressive,” he said in explaining his change of strategy. “With the wind the way it was (coming from the south-east), I could take some of the bunkers out of play and get it down where I could hit a sand wedge into the green.
“Angel (one of his playing partners Angel Cabrera) was doing that yesterday and did it quite effectively with a different wind, a more difficult wind. And I figured today would be a chance to go out there and be aggressive, to take some of those bunkers out of play. But I didn’t drive it well.”
While Woods has his work cut out to get remotely close to McIlroy, a number of his compatriots are better placed to capitalise should the halfway leader let his foot off the gas in the final two rounds. Dustin Johnson, for instance. Joint-second behind Darren Clarke at Royal St George’s in 2011, he almost slipped under the radar to sit as McIlroy’s nearest challenger on four-under. It followed the 30-year-old carding a flawless 65 – the best of the week. He finished with two birdies and had seven in total.
Six players are sharing third spot, including two other Americans. Ryan Moore fired a 68 to move to six-under and was joined on that mark by Rickie Fowler after his second 69.
Two-over for the day after seven, Moore transformed his day with six birdies thereafter. “I was kind of going the wrong direction, but it made me refocus on hitting good golf shots,” said the 2003 Walker Cup player.
Fowler finished with a flourish in the Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen. He’s ticking along nicely here and is ready to pounce if McIlroy’s freaky Fridays become sickening Saturdays or Sundays. “It’s been a great start over the first two days, but I feel I left a little bit out there so I feel I can improve,” said the colourful Californian. “Today I didn’t feel great with the putter. My eyes were a bit off, so I kind of scraped it around.”
Also trailing the leader by six are Spaniard Sergio Garcia, Italian Francesco Molinari and South African duo Louis Oosthuizen. Garcia’s 70 included an eagle-2 at the second – a feat he also achieved in the third round here in 2006, when he played with Woods in the final round before finishing fifth. “Another good memory from this Championship here,” beamed Garcia of finding the hole from around 180 yards with a 6-iron.
He’d tweeted earlier that he’d watched the new Seve Ballesteros movie on Thursday night. “It was inspiring to watch and I’d recommend it to everyone,” he declared.
Molinari, whose 70 contained six birdies, is proving why this strategic test is right up his street, while just as dangerous to McIlroy if he is unable to maintain the fireworks are Oosthuizen and Schwartzel.
Oosthuizen, the winner at St Andrews in 2010, also signed for six birdies in a 68 that hoisted him up the leaderboard. Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters champion, signed off with three birdies for the second day running for a 67.
Celebrating his 28th birthday, George Coetzee bolstered the South African contingent in the top 10 with a 69 for five-under, where he was joined by American Jim Furyk (79) and Scotland’s Marc Warren, who came in late in the day with a fine 68. After a bit of a wobble, world No 1 Adam Scott recovered to birdie the last two holes for a 73. He’s on three-under a shot ahead of newly-crowned Scottish Open champion Justin Rose (70).
It’s been a bit of a struggle so far for defending champion Phil Mickelson. An eagle at the fifth failed to ignite his day. After a 70, he’s on level-par – 12 behind McIlroy.
At least ‘Lefty’ is still here. The casualties included Masters champion Bubba Watson and Lee Westwood, who led by two heading into the final round at Muirfield last year, as well as Ian Poulter, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Webb Simpson, Ernie Els and Paul Lawrie.