CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (AP) – A shank for Sergio Garcia. A duck-hook for Tiger Woods.
Both shots were shocking to see on the opening hole at Carnoustie. The bigger surprise Friday at the British Open was which player recovered – not the guy with 12 majors, but the one seeking his first.
“It was a solid shank,” Garcia said, able to laugh after an even-par 71 put him 6 under for the tournament and gave him a two-shot lead going into the weekend.
His 9-iron skidded into a nasty lie in the rough right of the green, and what followed was a chip that would have made short-game genius Seve Ballesteros proud. It skirted the edge of a bunker and rolled to tap-in range for an unlikely par that brightened Garcia’s mood.
Woods, on the other hand, hit his iron off the tee so poorly that it found the Barry Burn. That’s not unusual at Carnoustie, except the winding stream shouldn’t come into play until the final hole, not the first one. It was that far left.
He dropped the club right after impact and watched the ball sail over the gallery, hop along the turf and disappear into the burn and out-of-bounds, putting two strokes on his card before he put a ball in play.
“It was such a poor shot because the commitment wasn’t there,” said Woods, who made double bogey on his way to a 3-over 74 that left him seven shots behind in his quest to become the first player in 51 years to win the claret jug three straight times.
“Still not out of it,” Woods said, even though 18 players separated him from the top of the leaderboard.
Garcia took another step toward validating his promise, grinding his way through chilly breezes with birdies on both par 5s and only a couple of mistakes that put him two shots clear of K.J. Choi.
He has contended for majors since he was a teenager, but the 27-year-old Spaniard looks as though he might finally have figured them out. Garcia wasn’t at his best in the second round, but he was good enough.
“I was hoping for a little better than what I did,” Garcia said. “But that was not a bad round. Every time you shoot on a difficult course … an under-par or even-par round, you know you’re not too far away.”
Choi, perhaps the hottest player in golf with victories at two big tournaments in the last two months, was bearing down on Garcia with a string of birdies along the back nine until a bogey on the final hole that was a foot away from being worse. His tee shot narrowly avoided the burn left of the 18th fairway, forcing Choi to stand on the stone steps and punch back to the fairway.
“You’ve just got to play that hole as a par 5,” Choi said after a 69. “Even if you get a bogey, just consider it a good par.”
They will be in the final group Saturday of a major that is starting to take shape.
The best round of the day belonged to former Masters champion Mike Weir of Canada, a 68 that put him at 3-under 139 along with another Spaniard, Miguel Angel Jimenez, who had a 70. Another shot behind was former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk (70) and Boo Weekley, whose backwoods charm is starting to captivate Britain as much as his ball-striking.
The group at 1-under 141 included U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera and two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen.
Absent from the mix is Phil Mickelson, who missed the cut for the second straight time in a major. Lefty needed a par on the final hole to make the weekend but hit a power fade into Barry Burn for double bogey and a 77.
It was a setback for the three-time major champion, who lost in a playoff last week at the Scottish Open.
“I thought I was playing better than this,” Mickelson said.
Also leaving early was Colin Montgomerie, whose victory two weeks ago in Ireland renewed hopes that a major was still in his future. Paul Lawrie, the shock winner at Carnoustie in 1999, took double bogey on the final hole and missed the cut by one.
Garcia has never had the lead going into the weekend at a major, and his work is far from done. Five major champions are among those within six shots of the lead, with nasty weather forecast for Saturday.
“I’d rather be leading than being eight shots back, that’s for sure,” Garcia said. “You don’t feel like you have to push your game to the limit all the time. So I’m pretty happy the way I’m standing right now.”
Woods ended his streak of nine consecutive rounds under par at the British Open. And he was lucky it wasn’t worse.
Two shots came within inches of going into those perilous pot bunkers. He turned away in disgust as his approach on the 10th hole headed for the burn, only to rattle through a small cluster of trees and land safely in the middle of them.
“I could have easily shot myself out of the tournament today,” Woods said. “But I kept myself right in there.”
Garcia was stalking a 5-foot par putt on the 18th green when Woods was announced on the first tee.
Then came a buzz that Garcia could not ignore. He was startled by the sound coming from Woods’ direction – not cheers, but groans and gasps of the gallery seeing the two-time defending champion hit such a miserable shot.
Woods hit into the right rough on the first hole at Royal St. George’s in 2003, a ball that was never found. But that was only about 10 yards off line. This shot looked like it belonged on the municipal course at Monifieth up the road.
Rarer than the shot was the indecision. He practiced a low stinger on the range, but as Woods settled over the ball, he wondered whether that shot might run into a bunker on the right or if he should hit the ball a little higher.
Either way, the result was double bogey and a battle to stay in the game. Woods saved par from a bunker on the ninth, from the trees by the burn on No. 10 and with an approach while standing upright on the edge of a fairway bunker on the 11th.
Garcia could have put some distance between his challengers, although he still looked very much in control. He didn’t have as many birdie chances as Thursday, when he opened with a 65, but he picked his spots.
“I’m not going to lie. I was a little bit nervous at the beginning because you want to do well like I had yesterday,” Garcia said.
His confidence was soaring at the end, so much that he broke a golfer’s unwritten code never to say “shank.”
“I don’t mind it,” Garcia said.
He recalled a similar start in the final round of Sun City in 2003, playing with Goosen in the final group.
“Down the middle, got the 9-iron out, same club I hit today and shanked it way right of the green,” Garcia said. “That time I made bogey. I managed to win the tournament.
“It’s not a bad thing.”