Golf: Woods leads his army to the front

Tiger repays part of his huge appearance fee with a sparkling display for vast gallery at Europe's TPC
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IF THE SPONSORS of the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open TPC of Europe at the St Leon Rot course in Heidelberg had doubts about the reported $1m fee which enticed Tiger Woods to Germany, then all they had to do was stand on the first hole yesterday to see the return on their investment. Thousands of Germans turned out to watch the 23-year-old American and the entire fairway was already lined before he had even arrived on the tee. There were 17 signs saying: "Keine fotos [no photos]" but it didn't make a blind bit of difference. Just about every other person had a camera and flashes popped incessantly as Woods walked by.

He couldn't even spend a penny without being photographed. After taking advantage of a small, portable toilet to the right of the second tee, he emerged to a battery of cameras which captured the historic moment on film. What publication would carry a shot of Tiger Woods leaving a Portaloo?

Woods was partnering Lee Westwood in the second round. They had played with Thomas Bjorn the day before but the Dane withdrew because of injury. Not that anyone noticed. Even the play of Westwood was lost on most fans, which may explain why he struggled to an eight-over-par 80. They were only there to see Woods.

The group behind Woods consisted of Nick Price, Mark O'Meara and Andrew Coltart, a good trio to watch. However, by the time they reached the 1st green the fans had left in their droves. Woods had dragged them along in his wake. And he did not disappoint them, making five birdies and only one bogey in a round of 68 to take the lead on seven under par.

Of course Woods is not the only star name here this week. Besides O'Meara and Price, Colin Montgomerie, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam, Nick Faldo, the young Spanish sensation Sergio Garcia and Ernie Els are also in the field. Els put on a show on the first day, returning what he called a "near flawless" six-under-par 66 to share the lead with Gary Orr. A one- over-par 73 left him on five under, two behind Woods, but it was two Swedes who stole the early spotlight yesterday.

Jesper Parnevik was making his first appearance in Europe this season, and returned a 68 to finish two strokes off the lead. He hopes for a good finish to enhance his prospects of qualifying for the European Ryder Cup side. Parnevik was one of Seve Ballesteros's two wild-card picks at Valderrama in 1997, but he wants to make the team this year on merit. And he feels there could be as many as four Swedes on this year's team.

"It's looking good for the Swedes," Parnevik said. After singling out Per-Ulrik Johansson for his bulldog spirit, he added Patrik Sjoland and Jarmo Sandelin. Parnevik thinks Sandelin especially could make a big impact at Brookline, Massachusetts in September. "He has a lot of guts and that's what you need in the Ryder Cup," he said. "I think he could be something really special for the European Team." Sandelin lived up to that billing by shooting 69 to join Parnevik on five under. A good finish here and he should make the line-up. That would add spice as Sandelin has had two much publicised dust-ups with Phil Mickelson and Mark O'Meara in recent years. Mickelson accused Sandelin of unsportsmanlike conduct in a match they played in the 1996 Alfred Dunhill Cup. Then Sandelin accused O'Meara of cheating when the American won the 1997 Lancome Trophy.

Video evidence showed O'Meara marking his ball closer to one hole. O'Meara said it was an oversight on his part and was cleared of the incident. However Sandelin, who finished one shot behind, was unrepentent. Indeed, he says he is looking forward to facing either player. "I am in a position where I can't lose in the Ryder Cup," said the Swede. "If I make the team it's my first time. O'Meara and Mickelson are world-class players and it's harder for them because the pressure is on them to beat me should we play against each other." Parnevik agreed, saying: "I think he'd be able to put it out of his mind, but I don't know if they would."

Justin Rose made it 20 missed cuts in a row following a second-round 81 that included a nine on the 18th. At least Rose finished the hole. The same could not be said about Sandy Lyle. The former Masters and Open champion was disqualified for failing to hole out on the final green. He was eight over par at the time, so nobody really noticed. The German fans only cared about Tiger Woods.