Price takes lead as Toms drops two strokes at opening hole

Friday, July 19th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

GULLANE, Scotland (AP) _ Former champion Nick Price birdied the first two holes to take the lead at the British Open on Friday while PGA titlist David Toms double bogeyed the first to slide off the leaderboard from a share of first place.

The rain returned Friday to Muirfield, soaking the course and making things more difficult for the early players.

Toms found that out quickly, making a double bogey on the first hole to drop off a share of the lead on a links course made more colorful by the thousands of umbrellas fans carried along the fairways.

So did Phil Mickelson, who took two shots to get out of the wet, knee-deep rough on the first hole and also made double bogey to fall back to 1 under.

Price, who won the title at Turnberry in 1994, seemed to be the only one enjoying the weather, making birdies on the first two holes to get to 5 under and take sole possession of the early second round lead.

Behind him on 4-under were Sweden's Carl Pettersson and Duffy Waldorf of the United States who were due to go out later.

Among other early starters who stumbled on the early holes were former PGA Championship and Masters champion Vijay Singh, who bogeyed the first and fourth holes to slide to 3-over and playing partner Jesper Parnevik, who dropped shots at the first two for the same score.

It's not a British Open without some rain and wind to make things interesting. It's usually not a major championship unless Tiger Woods is in contention.

Woods was able to sleep in and hope the rain cleared because he had an afternoon tee time to resume his chase for an unprecedented Grand Slam of major tournament wins.

With Woods struggling on the greens on Thursday, and a calm Muirfield left without one of its main defenses, an odd collection of players surged past him and crowded the top of the leaderboard after the first round of the Open.

Among them was a guy who wears funny hats, a 21-year-old Brit, a European Tour player from Sweden who lives in North Carolina and two veterans almost ready for the senior tour.

Whether they can remain in contention hinges largely on Woods' putter _ and the blustery conditions that will make the second round more of an adventure. It's then that Woods hopes to separate himself and keep alive his bid for a third straight major championship.

``I got myself where I needed to be, especially if the weather is the way it's supposed to be the next two days,'' Woods said.

Woods managed to get it under par in his opening round, which is significant only because he has gone on to win the tournament the last seven times he opened a major championship with an under-par round.

The 1-under-par 70 left him tied for 23rd and three shots off the lead shared by Pettersson, Waldorf and Toms. Between the leaders and Woods were 19 other players _ including Mickelson _ bunched in at 68 and 69.

In all, nearly a fourth of the field broke par. Those who didn't either spent too much time in the knee-high heather or struggled like Woods on greens not as fast as in the year's two previous major championships.

Doing some of the taking was Toms, one of only three players in front of Woods who can boast of already having won a major championship.

Woods needed 33 putts for the day, lipping out a handful of birdie efforts and 3-putting for a bogey.

If he was frustrated over his putting, he wouldn't say. What did irritate him was a photographer who clicked his camera as Woods stood over the ball on the first tee and forced him to back off.

Woods promptly hit it 20 yards right of the fairway into the knee-high heather, where he encountered the photographers again and berated them for making noise.

Woods was muttering to himself later as he kept missing putts. Not only was he not leading in his bid for the third leg of the Grand Slam, he couldn't even beat playing partners Justin Rose and Shigeki Maruyama.

The 21-year-old Rose, who made a splash at the Open as a 17-year-old amateur, didn't allow himself to be intimidated by Woods, though he admitted it wasn't your usual threesome.

Rose and Maruyama shot 68s, and Rose had the lead by himself at the turn after an eagle on the ninth hole put him at 4-under.

There was no wind, so it was a matter of just trying to keep the ball out of the deep heather that lines the narrow fairways and the deep and strategically placed bunkers that litter the course.

``When the wind blows, we're going to see some horrendous scores out there because this golf course is very difficult right now,'' said Nick Price, among a group of a dozen players at 68.

Woods, who pays attention to weather forecasts and already knew a storm was predicted for Friday, welcomed the change in weather.

``I've always enjoyed playing in tougher conditions, because if you play well and shoot a good solid round you're going to move up,'' Woods said.