Woods Among Early Open Leaders

Thursday, July 20th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (AP) — Tiger Woods made a strong opening move Thursday toward a career Grand Slam, shooting a 5-under 67 to take the early clubhouse lead in the first round of the British Open.

Coming off a historic victory in the U.S. Open and needing only the British title to complete wins in all four major championships, Woods started slowly but came back to make five birdies in seven holes and move into the lead.

Woods was in trouble only once, when he had to hit out of knee-high grass on the famous No. 17 Road Hole. But he managed to get his shot near the front of the green and putted in for par.

``It was neat to be out there playing in a major championship again,'' Woods said. ``We're in a major championship and anything in the red is good.''

Journeyman British pro Ian Garbutt threatened to upstage Woods for a while, making four straight 3s on the front side that included an eagle on the fifth hole. Garbutt, playing in his first Open since 1993, was 7 under through 12 holes, but faltered and ended with a 68.

Former Open winner Tom Lehman was in a pack of players also a stroke behind Woods on a warm day with light winds that made perfect scoring conditions on the Old Course. Open officials helped by giving the hard, dry fairways and greens a good overnight watering.

``If you're playing well, the course is there for the taking,'' Lehman said.

Woods was even par through eight holes, then birdied Nos. 9 and 10 and followed with birdies at 12, 14 and 15. He had trouble hitting the ball close early, but when he did he made the putts.

Woods was especially happy two-putting 150 feet from the hole on No. 10 and by making par on the Road Hole.

``Under these conditions it's not too bad,'' he said.

If Woods wins, he would be only the fifth player — and at 24, the youngest — to win the modern career Grand Slam. The last player to win all four majors was Jack Nicklaus in 1966.

``It's something that I would love to be able to do,'' Woods said. ``But there's three more days before it happens or it doesn't.''

Notah Begay appeared headed for the early clubhouse lead. But he made a triple bogey after hitting out of the water on No. 17, bringing back images of Jean Van de Velde a year ago.

Begay, who at one point was 7 under, also bogeyed the 18th hole to finish with a 3-under 69.

``That's more fun than taking a drop,'' Begay said of his shot out of the burn. ``It wasn't a bad start. I wish it could have been better.''

Scores were low across the board as the Old Course was without its main defense: wind. The calm weather was a welcome relief for players prepared for gusts off the North Sea.

With all the 156-man field having teed off toward late afternoon, 100 players were at even par or better.

Before play began, Woods' opponents bravely lined up to say he can be beaten. His swing coach wasn't so sure, and it showed as Woods played steadily early and began finding his range as the round went on.

``He's not putting quite as well,'' Woods' coach Butch Harmon said, ``but we worked on it ... and it's coming around.''

Those might be words Woods' opponents dread hearing, especially if the wind kicks up.

Yet Woods is striking the ball so well that Harmon pulled out a replica of the gutta-percha ball used a century ago and had Woods play it on the ninth hole during practice Wednesday.

His tee shot with the gutta-percha, a solid rubber ball with lines scored across the surface, traveled 113 yards less than a drive with his swoosh-logoed ball. But Woods hit a 5-iron approach over the green, chipped back up and still managed to par the hole.

While Woods didn't play the gutta-percha when the championship began, he has said wind would dictate his selection of clubs off the tee, beginning with the 376-yard, par-4 first hole.

``Everyone is going to hit it an awful long way this week, but it's where you hit it and where the second shots go that will be the key,'' Scot Colin Montgomerie said. ``There will be a lot of what we might call sucker pin positions that some of the less experienced players might go for and find themselves in serious trouble.''

Montgomerie bristled when his remarks about length counting for less and experience for more were taken as a dig at Woods. ``I did not mention any names,'' he shot back.