Woods begins to pull away at U.S. Open

Friday, June 14th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (AP) _ Tiger Woods sloshed his way around the Bethpage Black Course, refusing to let a little rain douse his quest for another major title.

What about the rest of the field in the U.S. Open? They could use a life preserver.

Woods picked up Friday where he left off in the first round, shooting a 2-under 68 to stand at 5-under 135 midway through the Open.

He had a five-stroke lead on a soggy, gloomy day, which left everyone else struggling just to break par.

Most of top contenders, including Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson, teed off late in the incessant rain, facing an already fearsome course that was dotted with impromptu rivers.

In those conditions, no one made a run at Woods. Still, he refused to declare victory.

``I've still got to play 36 holes,'' he said. ``It's not over yet.''

The rain was so heavy at times that he flipped around his cap while putting _ resembling a baseball catcher _ so the water dripping from his bill wouldn't distract his concentration.

``You know that everyone has to deal with it,'' Woods said. ``It's going to be a tough day, it's going to be a wet day, it's going to be long and slow. You just go out there and plod along.''

Woods had an early tee time and made it clear he was not going to fall back from the 67 he shot to lead by one after the first round.

He made birdies on three of the first four holes before stumbling around the turn, finding the sand on three straight holes beginning at No. 8.

As in the first round, Woods made a birdie putt on the final hole to punctuate his second straight under-par round.

``This golf course is playing brutally,'' Woods said. ``If you make one mistake, it adds up and you pay a price.''

But he was getting a discount, while everyone else was paying full retail.

Garcia was one shot behind Woods after the first round, but he ran into trouble on his second hole Friday. At No. 11, the Spaniard knocked his first two shots in the thick rough, then overshot the green and wound up taking double bogey.

Through 12 holes, he was 2 over for the day and even for the tournament.

Choi, who opened with a 69, had a birdie at the par-5 fourth hole to at least keep Woods within shouting distance. But two bogeys soon followed and he dropped back to even.

Phil Mickelson, coming off a 70, pulled off one of his typical shots _ holing a wedge from the fairway _ but was still 2 over.

Dudley Hart and Jeff Maggert were among just six players who eclipsed par in the first round, both shooting 69. They both dropped back Friday.

As for everyone else?

Defending U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen shot 75 and was 14 over after two rounds. He made a triple bogey on his next-to-last hole after finding his tee shot under a tree and was unlikely to make the cut.

David Duval, who had a triple bogey at the same hole that claimed Goosen, was 11 over and clinging to hope that it would be good enough to play two more rounds.

``It's cold and wet and hard to hold the club,'' Duval said. ``When you're not playing your greatest, you've got no chance.''

Teeing off in the morning, before the rain turned heavy, Woods made the imposing course look easy with a 4-foot birdie putt at No. 1 and a 2-footer at 2.

After donning a black rain vest to cope with the increasing showers, he sank a 7-footer at the fourth.

Woods made his first big mistake on the par-3 eighth, dropping his tee shot in a bunker. He blasted out through the green and had to chip on for bogey.

Woods made a slick up-and-down from the bunker at 9, saving par with a 15-foot putt, but another trip to the sand on 10 cost him a second bogey.

From there, he strung together seven straight pars _ escaping thick rough several times _ before making a 15-footer for birdie at the final hole.

Take that, Bethpage.

``I stay out of trouble,'' Woods said. ``And when you do put yourself in a place where it doesn't look like you're going to make par, just go ahead and get your bogey. Just don't make anything worse than bogey.''

For Woods, the key was making several testy putts to save par.

``I try and bury those par putts,'' he said. ``No matter what you do, you're going to have to somehow make those putts to stay in the tournament.''

Woods kept his sights on a true Grand Slam with two rounds in the 60s while everyone else was glad to get something in the 70s.

He won the Masters in April, and is off to a great start in his quest to become the first player since Jack Nicklaus in 1972 to win the first two legs of the Grand Slam.

There's still a glimmer of hope for the others.

Four times, Woods has led a major after the first round, but only twice has he gone on to win. Both occurred in 2000, when he took the U.S. Open by a record 15 strokes and the PGA Championship with a playoff victory over Bob May.

In 1998, however, Woods held first-round leads in both the British Open and PGA Championship. He wound up third at Royal Birkdale and tied for 10th at Sahalee Country Club.

This looked more like the guy won four straight majors in 1999-00, becoming the first to hold all four majors at the same time _ the ``Tiger Slam.''

The rest of the field resembled those weekend golfers who pay $39 for the privilege of playing at Bethpage State Park. The course setup already was brutal; the steady showers only made it worse.

``It's not easy,'' said Charles Howell, who shot a 74 and was rather pleased with himself. ``You hit a couple in the round and then you start having doubts. You start putting extra pressure on yourself. There's some great players out here, but it's just not easy.''