Tiger begins pulling away from British Open field

Friday, July 21st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Nicklaus misses cut in potential last Open

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland - Tiger Woods set the stage Friday for another major championship runaway and a career Grand Slam, shooting a near flawless 6-under 66 to seize control midway through the British Open.

A month after he won the U.S. Open by a record 15 shots, Woods took a three-stroke lead into weekend play after two rounds of bogey-free golf on the Old Course.

Not even a near mishap on the famous Road Hole could derail Woods as he birdied four holes on the front nine and two more coming in to put him at 11-under 133.

David Toms was second with a 67 that put him at 136, while Sergio Garcia, Loren Roberts and Steve Flesch were four behind at 137.

Woods, who hasn't had a bogey in his last 62 major championship holes, started with a 12-foot birdie putt on the first hole and had two tap-ins for birdies on the front nine.

Totally in control, his only trouble came on No. 17, when his second shot came to a rest in some grass near the road. Using a mound behind the pin as a backstop, he hit a shot that ended up 10 feet behind the hole and made the putt.

With barely a hint of breeze, and sunshine that made it feel more like Southern California than the edge of the North Sea, players continued their assault at the home of golf, where even 112 deep bunkers didn't disrupt scoring.

``The course was there for the taking,'' said Fred Couples, who shot a 68 and was tied for fourth at 138.

Three behind when he started the day with Toms already finished, Woods finally took the lead for good on the ninth hole. He sunk a 15-footer as he made the turn.

Woods, trying to complete a career Grand Slam at age 24, had a late tee time, then wasted little time in establishing his dominance.

He teed off moments after Jack Nicklaus stood on the Swilken Bridge to bid a probable farewell to the Open at St. Andrews after a second round 73 meant he would miss the cut. Just like the U.S. Open, it seemed to mark the passing of one golfing era to another.

``St. Andrews always has a special place in my heart,'' the 60-year-old Nicklaus said after stopping on the bridge on 18 to doff his cap and acknowledge the outpouring from the crowd.

As Nicklaus was getting cheers, the 20-year-old Garcia was hearing the roars of the crowd as he got to 8 under, only to bogey the Road Hole.

``I felt like I left two or three out there,'' Garcia said. ``I hope it's good enough to be close.''

Long before Woods teed off, moves were being made, with David Duval, Davis Love III and Couples all going onto the leaderboard. There was also Jean Van de Velde, whose infamous collapse in the Open last year will forever be a part of golf lore.

Love had the best early round of the day, a 66 that put him tied with Van de Velde, six behind Woods. Another shot back was Duval, after a second straight 70.

Others in contention were first-round leader Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Thomas Bjorn and Tom Lehman, all tied with Couples for fourth.

Gentle winds helped golf's most hallowed course play even easier than the first day, when the stroke average was 72.9. On Friday, the average dropped to 72.1.

Nicklaus, a three-time British Open champion, wasn't going to be among the weekend players. He missed a short birdie putt on the 18th, then walked arm-in-arm off the green with son, Steve, his caddie. He blew a few kisses to the crowd and walked up the steps off of 18 to even more applause.

A few moments earlier, Nicklaus had paused on the Swilken Bridge that crosses the water on the 18th fairway. He took off his hat and waved it to the crowd, then motioned for his son to join him on the bridge.

Couples, winless in two years and not a factor in recent major championships, made four birdies on the front side and appeared headed for the early lead in the clubhouse until his ball landed in a gaping greenside bunker on No. 16 and he made double bogey.

Van de Velde, meanwhile, shot a 68 and was 5 under heading into the final two rounds as he sought to atone for the triple bogey on the final hole at Carnoustie last year that cost him the Open.