- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 20, 2002

GULLANE, Scotland The Grand Slam has hit a logjam.
Because of some rotten luck with the short stick, Tiger Woods finds himself buried behind eight players heading into the weekend at the 131st British Open. Woods, who is attempting to become the first to win the first three majors of the season since Ben Hogan in 1953, struggled with his putter once again at Muirfield yesterday, carding a second-round 68 that left him two strokes behind a cluster of players in the scrap for the claret jug.
"I feel like I could have easily gone lower today, but I just haven't gotten a lot of putts to drop," said Woods (4 under) after lip-outs from six feet on Nos.15 and 16 kept him from a share of the lead with Ernie Els, Shigeki Maruyama, Padraig Harrington, Duffy Waldorf and Bob Tway. "I hit good putts and they lipped out. There's nothing you can do about that."
Obviously miffed by his misfortune, Woods turned petulant after his second trip around the 7,034-yard, par-71 layout, refusing to make the short trek to the media tent. Despite playing a bogey-free round that was extremely solid from tee to green, Woods clearly understood that he could have taken the tournament in hand if the two cups hadn't given his dimpled pal the cold shoulder.
"Tiger had some bad luck, but this is golf," said Maruyama, who posted his second consecutive 68 alongside Woods to grab a share of the lead. "He had another angry day."
Maybe Woods will find his smile playing today with best friend Mark O'Meara. He'll certainly need to find a few more birdies if he hopes to keep pace with the leaders. Because unlike Thursday, when the leader board looked like a refugee from the Dubai Desert Classic, a number of the world's most formidable challengers took advantage of yesterday's ideal scoring conditions.
Scotland's Colin Montgomerie set a scorching early-morning standard with a 64 to reach 4 under. And Els followed Monty's lead with a front nine for the ages. Coming within one stroke of the British Open record, the 32-year-old South African blitzed around the outward nine in 29 strokes, reaching 8 under before cooling with two back-nine bogeys.
"The first nine was quite amazing, really," said the two-time U.S. Open champion, who needed just 10 putts to torch Muirfield's opening nine. "If you put it in play and get on the greens and keep making putts, I guess that's what happens. It's quite difficult to keep your feet on the ground. You know, you play the front nine the way I did and you feel if you keep going like that you could shoot a 54. That in itself is a scary thought."
Els came to Muirfield questioning his chances to contend. After a 50th-place finish at last week's Scottish Open, he lacked confidence in his swing. But Els has spent considerable time this week with swing guru David Leadbetter and sports psychologist Jos Vanstiphout, who gained acclaim by convincing Retief Goosen he could win last year's U.S. Open.
"I feel like a different player right now," said Els, who admitted he needed some positive reinforcement from Vanstiphout. "He keeps on grinding stuff into my head. He's keeping me positive. He's got a pretty decent job to do the next two days You always need convincing you can win."
Interestingly, Els (1994 and 1997 U.S. Open champion) is the only one of the eight players ahead of Woods who has won a major in the last 15 years. With that dubious track record among the leaders, there is likely to be a lot of convincing needed over the next two days. Particularly if Woods suddenly rediscovers the putting touch he used to tame the field at Bethpage last month.
"I'm in perfect position," said Woods, reciting his major mantra. "I feel very comfortable because I've kept myself out of major trouble and stayed away from the big number out there."
There were other high-profile players who were not as lucky. World No.2 Phil Mickelson, who began the day just one stroke off the lead at 3 under, slumped to a second-round 76 and barely made the weekend cut at 2 over (144). First-round co-leader David Toms (142) ballooned to a 75, basically disappearing from contention. And recent major champions Jose Maria Olazabal (145) and Vijay Singh (147) spiraled south of the weekend cut.
All told, 83 players survived the ax. And anyone at 2 under or better still has a clear shot at the jug.
"It's going to be a lot of fun," said Woods. "We haven't gotten any wind yet. And if the wind ever blows, it's going to get really interesting. It's a great challenge, and it's going to be great theater for everyone to watch."


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