Golf: Woods has maturity to cope with Carnoustie

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The Independent Online
AS TIGER Woods contemplated wrestling the high winds, narrow fairways and inclement bumps of Carnoustie he accepted that normality would be special at this year's Open Championship. The man who compromises best will be the winner on Sunday.

He was articulating the diminishing range for a golfer that begins when he slips from childhood and has accelerated this week on the Tayside links. "You can't hit miraculous shots all the time," he lamented.

"I remember back in junior golf I was able to pull off more shots than I do now because I didn't have the conditions to deal with. You put the ball in the trees and there's no rough underneath in junior or even amateur golf. Out on the tour there is eight inches and you have to thread it through a needle."

He had the conditions to deal with yesterday all right. Sergio Garcia, who has been compared to the 23-year-old American had it relatively light when it came to the wind and shot an 89; Woods scrambled and escaped to a 74 when the elements were at their most vindictive.

It was not the charge for glory that made Woods the most attractive draw in golf almost before he hit a ball as a pro but the sort that wins major championships. A par-pinching exercise in parsimony. There was no ripples of excitement that can sweep through a crowd when he makes a charge, just sensible play. It was as if Scary Spice had decided to dress like the spinster local library assistant.

"You have to accept that making a bogey is fine," he said, "but also give yourself the chance to save a par... On this course you will have to learn to deal with adversity." If the putts had dropped for him yesterday he would have dealing with something far more potent that a three-over score that left the 5/1 pre-tournament favourite three shots adrift of the lead.

Nowhere was Woods' adhesiveness to the par more apparent than the 12th, a hole that bears the name Southward Ho which explains its direction and its susceptability to crosswinds. From the start it appeared to have a malevolence towards the American and he was swept off his feet by a gust from his drive and almost tripped over the tee box.

His approach was even more precarious, a slice that crashed into the rough on a mound to the right and short of the green. Surely he would lose a stroke from there? Instead his chip was so immaculate it tripped over the hole before coming to rest seven feet away. The putt was accepted with a signature swagger.

Woods and birdies normally go together like the government and taxes but he had to wait until the par-five 14th to get his first and, true to type on a day when little seemed to conform, it arrived in bizarre circumstances.

Woods' approach had him 45 feet from the hole but his playing partner, Ian Woosnam, defied arithmetgical probability and his ball knocked it from its resting place. The 14th is a blind shot and none of the players knew where the Tiger's shot had finished and it required the gallery to provide the information.

Woods, a broad smile across his features, urged them to push the spot nearer the flag but no matter, once the ball had been respotted he two- putted for his only red figure of the day.

That moved Woods to within two shots of Rodney Pampling, a tide that quickly abated on the 16th when he took three putts and the 17th when he missed from six feet. You suspect it was a temporary reverse.