All Tiger Woods could hear yesterday was the whoosh of rivals overtaking him on the way up the leaderboard. What should have been the day for him to move smoothly into position to pounce on his second successive Open ended in a retreat from the course straight to the range to try to repair a swing fault that has driven him out of contention.
Not that Woods yet admits that victory is beyond him. "I'm not out of it," he said. "Hopefully, tomorrow I can post a good number and see what happens. But I do need some help from the weather. I need it pretty rough tomorrow so that it will be hard for the leaders to go low." You wouldn't want be out on a day as bad as that. Tiger is separated from the lead by five shots and a total of 27 players, so it would take a minor miracle to retrieve the situation that was infused with so much urgency as he worked with coach Butch Harmon last night.
It is a marvel his self-belief survived a round soured by an outbreak of mishitting that destroyed a very promising start. Yet, even during a surge that took him to five under after six holes he didn't look comfortable. Pounding the ground with his club and twirling the shaft of his putter like an impatient majorette when he missed a putt, he looked less than cool and controlled. Yesterday's launching could hardly have been smoother. An iron to the heart of the opening par-three was converted into a birdie with a 20-feet putt that curled deliciously into the hole. He slightly overcooked his approach to the second but parred comfortably enough.
He favoured an iron for most of his drives and the one he hit from the third tee looked to be carrying all the security he was seeking. But although the ball pitched in the middle of the fairway it caught a treacherous Lytham slope and took a wicked bounce 15 yards to the left and into thick rough. He banged his club angrily on the turf and continued to belabour the poor sod on his march up the fairway. As it turned out he hit a superb rescue shot that rolled within 25 feet of the pin to save par. He still didn't look happy but managed to control himself, and ignore the irritant whine of a light aircraft overhead, as he sank another birdie putt of about 30 feet on the fourth.
Woods didn't even get near the par-three fifth. As soon as his tee-shot began to ease right he moved sideways to keep his eye on the ball and although it avoided the bunker it rolled down the steep bank alongside the green. His chip bounced well past and you could almost tell by his demeanour that he was going to miss the return and drop the shot he had just gained. The Duke of York was standing just a few yards away but I don't think we can blame him. He dumped his drive on the sixth into the right rough but again saved himself with a lovely recovery into the middle of the green where he grabbed a birdie to go five under.
At that stage of the afternoon it put him in a strong position but his tendency to hit the ball to the right was about to prove a major inconvenience. This time his effort to fly one out of the rough went wrong and the ball flew even more right into an unplayable lie. When he eventually reached the green he missed a six feet putt for a double bogey that cast a gloom over his entourage that that was never inlined to leave. Over the first two rounds, Woods had the company of Frenchman Thomas Levet, who just made the cut, and Angel Cabrera, who missed it by a mile. Cabrera would no doubt have been a delightful companion but a trying partner. The careless caballero carved it all over the place to finish at 13 over par.
In his defence, it can't be much fun playing in front of a Tiger gallery particularly if you tend to hit your tee shot further than him. Levet, usually the shortest hitter of the three, would play first and then Woods.
As soon as the ball had left the face of his club the crowd would immediately move to get a good vantage point further ahead. Cabrera would play his shot with two columns of marching fans visible from the corner of each eye. It must have been like playing on a conveyor belt. Yesterday, Woods was accompanied by his old friend Mark O'Meara. You would have thought that an old trouper like O'Meara would handle it but he dropped a shot at the first and then double-bogeyed the third after dollying the ball into the sand like a high-handicapper. He had started level with Woods at three under. By the time they had reached the turn he was four shots behind. It tended to underline Tiger's struggles on the back nine that O'Meara began playing well and finished the round one better.
After finishing the after-round formalities, Woods with a face like thunder ran for the practice range so fast that the policeman assigned to protect him was left gasping behind. It is usually on the course that they can't catch him.Reuse content