- The Washington Times - Friday, July 19, 2002

GULLANE, Scotland Muirfield did its best imitation of Miami Beach yesterday. But instead of taking advantage of the ideal British Open scoring conditions, most of the world's top players decided to take a holiday.

When Tiger Woods began his run at collecting the third leg of the Slam with a modest early-morning 70, one might have expected the world's other high-profile players to pounce on the opening. Given the windless, sunny weather, the 7,034-yard, par-71 layout couldn't have played any easier. Incredibly, such a full-field rally never materialized. And when dusk settled over the Firth of Forth, the first-round best of 67 belonged to the uninspiring trio of David Toms, Duffy Waldorf and Carl Pettersson.

"We haven't had to play links golf yet," said Waldorf, 39, who has four victories in his 15 seasons on the PGA Tour. "It was more American golf out there today. I'm honestly a little surprised the scores aren't lower."

Join the crowd.

According to Woods, who is probably thrilled to be behind only 21 players after his frustrating day with the putter, tucked pins and slow greens kept the field from shredding Muirfield.

"I think the pace of the greens is a problem for everybody, because these are slower than we normally play week after week," said Woods after taking 33 putts, a miserable day by his standards. "I hit a lot of beautiful putts that just grazed the edge or lipped out. I had six or seven lip-outs for birdie today. If those go in, it would have been a pretty good round."

Luckily for Woods, they didn't go in for most other players either, particularly not those you would expect to be his primary challengers. Of the 21 who broke 70 to surge ahead of Woods, only four are ranked among the world's top 25: No.6 David Toms (67), No.2 Phil Mickelson (68), No.11 Nick Price (68) and No.10 Padraig Harrington (69).

Where is Jack Nicklaus when you need him? The Golden Bear, of course, recently suggested that today's top players lacked the mettle to challenge Woods. You can mark Muirfield Round 1 as the latest bit of supporting evidence.

"You definitely feel it is an opportunity lost," said Colin Montgomerie of Scotland, deflated after a 74. "There was no wind. Tiger didn't run away. And still you fail to capitalize. It's most disheartening."

Among the four standouts who did take advantage of the circumstances, perhaps Toms poses the biggest threat to Tiger's attempted triple. After all, the 35-year-old Louisiana native was the last player not named Tiger to win a major.

"I know in the back of my mind that I've been able to win a major against a great field on a good golf course, and anytime you have that to fall back on, it makes you feel good," said last year's PGA Champion, thankful to be at a major venue that doesn't discriminate against average-length players. "I know I can win on this golf course. I can play this style of golf well."

The style of golf forced upon the field yesterday wasn't particularly exciting. Irons off tees and center-of-the-green approaches were the standard as virtually all 156 players took a conservative tack on the relatively short, jungle-lined track. The one notable exception was Pettersson, a native of Sweden and four-time all-American at N.C.State. The 24-year-old European Tour regular used irons off only two teeboxes and birdied all three par-5s after boldly crushed drives.

"I was hitting my woods really well on the range, so I decided to attack a little more than I had planned out there," said Pettersson, who won his first tournament earlier this year (Algarve Open). "It paid off, because I only missed two fairways today the first and 18th. If the weather changes, I might have to start hitting different clubs off tees. But it's so early in the tournament that it's not even worth talking about strategy or being in the lead or whatever. It's no big deal."

Woods said the same thing about his relatively forgettable opening round. But it was impossible to miss his negative body language yesterday. Woods was distracted twice on the first hole by an overanxious photographer who "had a heavy finger." He managed to escape from the hole with a miraculous par after driving in the waist-high right rough.

But even after the early altercation, he never looked comfortable. He seemed to be favoring his back, though he denied there was any problem. He left no less than five birdie putts short, which is definitely atypical. And he didn't smile once, despite a pairing that included lighthearted Japanese star Shigeki Maruyama (68) and gregarious crowd favorite Justin Rose (68).

"All he did throughout the day was sigh," said Maruyama, perfectly summing up Tiger's demeanor. "He expects so much of himself. I think maybe it makes him sad when he is not perfect."

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