2014 Winter Games News
|Woods in the mix on another sunny day at Muirfield|
|Written by PAUL NEWBERRY, AP National Writer|
|Friday, 19 July 2013 15:48|
GULLANE, Scotland (AP) β Tiger Woods plodded along most of the day. He lipped out a putt from 2Β½ feet. He settled for a bunch of pars.
Then, with his final stroke, he looked like the Tiger of old.
Woods rolled in a 15-footer for birdie on Muirfield's tough closing hole Friday, raising his putter toward the blue sky with a flourish, fully aware he was positioned again to break the longest major drought of his career.
Fun-loving Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez turned in another solid round, an even-par 71 that left him with a one-shot edge in the clubhouse. Right on his heels were Woods, Lee Westwood and Henrik Stenson, with a bunch of other guys β including first-round leader Zach Johnson β scrambling near the top of the leaderboard with holes still to play.
"It will be a fun weekend," Wood said. "This golf course is going to be difficult."
He finished with a 71 that looked pretty good given the perilous, rock-hard setup. Woods endured a stretch of 12 holes without a birdie before stealing one at the 18th.
"I was kind of fighting it," he said.
Par was a good score, as Jimenez showed. The 49-year-old had a couple of birdies, a pair of bogeys and a whole bunch of pars.
"I'm playing very solid," he said. "In these conditions, it's not easy. With these pin positions, it's very, very tough to get in close."
Not that Jimenez is getting too worked up about it.
The cigar-smoking, wine-loving golfer nicknamed "The Mechanic" is perhaps best known outside Europe for his unique stretching routine before each round. He'll put his knees together and gyrate his hips in a rather ridiculous-looking motion β especially for a guy with a hefty belly and even heftier ponytail β then pull out a couple of clubs to help work his legs and arms, though none of it looks very strenuous.
But, as silly as he looks, this guy is all business on the course. He's already bounced back from missing four months recovering from a broken right leg sustained in a skiing accident. If he can keep it going through the weekend, he might take a run at Julius Boros, the oldest major champion in golf history when he won the PGA Championship at age 48.
"Why not?" Jimenez said. "There's two more rounds to go. You never know what's going to happen. I'm just going to have fun on the golf course. When I finish here, I'll have a glass of red wine later on. I'm just going to keep doing the same thing."
Lee Westwood was one of the few players to put up a score in the 60s, but even he was staggering a bit by the end. After a brilliant front nine β he carded five birdies β the 40-year-old Englishman bogeyed three of the last six holes to finish with a 68.
Still, he joined Woods and Stenson just one stroke behind Jimenez's 3-under 139 total. The last English golfer to win the British Open was Nick Faldo in 1992.
Westwood was solidly positioned to break that streak and pick up his first major title.
"Why not enjoy it out there?" Westwood said. "It's tough for everybody. So smile your way through."
Woods is trying to break a drought of his own. He's 0-for-16 at majors since the 2008 U.S. Open, and missed four others during that stretch recovering from injuries.
Whoever wins this one will have to earn it. While the weather has been unseasonably warm and dry, the fearsome wind more of a gentle breeze, there weren't many chances for going low. Not on a tabletop of a course that is more brown than green, with pin conditions that some players complained were downright unfair.
As expected, the conditions toughened in the afternoon as the bright sun firmed up the greens even more. Johnson surrendered the lead with bogeys on four of the first eight holes. Phil Mickelson drove into a bunker at the second and took a double-bogey. Brandt Snedeker doubled the 10th. Rafael Cabrera-Bello did the same at the 14th on the way to a 74.
In a true British Open moment, Dustin Johnson found himself hitting sideways out of the sand, intentionally aiming for the knee-high grass in the rough, after he drove up against the face of a pot bunker. Even so, he was still right in the thick of things.
Two-time major Angel Cabrera made the turn a 4 under, another big-time performance from a golfer who rarely does anything special unless there's something special on the line. The burly Argentinian has won the U.S. Open and the Masters, and the nearly won another green jacket this past spring before losing to Adam Scott in a playoff.
Mark O'Meara, the 1998 Open champion, opened with a surprising 67 that left him one stroke behind Zach Johnson. But the course bit back Friday, sending the 56-year-old plunging out of contention. He lost his ball at No. 6, leading to a double-bogey, and stumbled to the finish with a 78.
"It's pretty simple: If you don't hit it good in an Open championship with the rough the way it is out there, you're going to make some bogeys," O'Meara said. "The short game is key. You have to putt well. I did none of those well."
O'Meara wasn't the only old-timer to fall back. Fifty-four-year-old Tom Lehman followed a 68 Thursday with a 77 less than 24 hours later.
The young weren't spared, either.
Jordan Spieth, the 19-year-old who last weekend became the PGA Tour's youngest winner since 1931, made only two bogeys through his first 32 holes and was 3 under. Then came a double-bogey at the 15th, back-to-back bogeys at the next two holes, and a missed chance at No. 18 when a 4-footer for birdie slid by the cup.
Just like that, the youngster found himself at 1-over 143.
Darren Clarke, the surprise Open champion in 2011 but mostly an afterthought since then, had no trouble making birdies on the front side. He rolled in four of them. Unfortunately for him, all that good work was wiped out by one bad hole β a quadruple-bogey 8 at the sixth. He finished with a 71 and also was at 143.
Johnson had not been atop the leaderboard at any major since he rallied to win the Masters six years ago. He took advantage of kinder conditions Thursday morning to shoot a 66, helped along by a 45-foot eagle putt. But, after making only one bogey in the opening round, he started to find trouble lurking around every pot bunker, the course hardening in weather that looked more like Southern California than Scotland.
Not far from the course, swimmers frolicked in the Firth of Forth, taking advantage of the northern edge of a heat wave sweeping the British Isles.
Rory McIlroy can go swimming this weekend if he likes.
He struggled to a 79 in the opening round, and kept going in the wrong direction as his score climbed to a staggering 13 over β pushed along by his third double-bogey of the tournament. The former No. 1 player in the world has been in a baffling slump since his runaway victory at last year's PGA Championship, and he looked totally lost at Muirfield.
Ditto for Luke Donald, who also spent time at the top of the world rankings. He followed a dismal 80 in the opening round with a mediocre 73, leaving him with a 10-over score that had no chance of making the cut.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.
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