By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 19, 2002
GULLANE, Scotland -- Golfers sleep in their cars to play at Bethpage Black, site of this year's U.S. Open, not Muirfield. But that's what Des Smyth did this week. He went to sleep at the wheel. And it almost cost him a chance to play in the British Open.
Smyth was among the surprises during the first round Thursday at Muirfield, shooting 3-under-par 68, one off the lead held by Duffy Waldorf, David Toms and Carl Pettersson.
A winner of eight tournaments on the European PGA Tour, Smyth, 49, arrived from Geneva on Monday, played a nine-hole practice round and was too tired to continue. While waiting for a friend, he practiced his putting, then went to the car.
"I put the seat down and laid in the car with one foot over the steering wheel and one foot on the dashboard," he said. "I know I shouldn't have done that. But I fell asleep like that and when I got up I felt my back a bit stiff."
Smyth had enough pain that after a practice round on Tuesday, he visited the fitness center, where he was advised not to play. "That would have broken my heart.
"I just love playing the Open," said Smyth, whose best finish is a tie for fourth in 1982 at Troon. "Maybe I'm not as afraid as I might have been in years gone by. I am performing better than I am expecting because I am just looking around thinking it is marvelous to be here. I love this. Maybe it's having the right effect. I suppose you have to get over 40 to even feel like that."
THERE'S PHIL: With birdies on the last two holes, Phil Mickelson put himself in familiar position: in contention. Mickelson, who finished third at the Masters and second at the U.S. Open, is hoping to win his first major championship. Making matters even better? He was two ahead of nemesis Tiger Woods. Mickelson, who shot 68 and was tied for fourth, worked extensively on British Open-type shots to get ready for a tournament in which he never has finished better than tied for 11th.
"Without the wind, it's too early to tell," he said. "I was able to play more traditional shots and shots that I feel more comfortable with back in the States."
ON THE MARK: In recent years, Mark O'Meara has considered offers to do television commentary. He even thought about going after the job vacated by longtime CBS analyst Ken Venturi. But Woods, his buddy, talked him out of it.
"He has too much talent to go in the booth," Woods said. "There's no way he should go in the booth, no way. He hasn't really played all that well the last couple of years to his standards, but it's just a matter of him trusting his game."
O'Meara, who has not won an official event since the 1998 British Open at Royal Birkdale, showed some of his old flash, shooting 2-under 69.
"I'm 45 years of age and to come here to this championship, which to me is the greatest championship in the world, and to get off to a good start like this -- especially to clip my roommate (Woods) by a shot -- I feel pretty good about it," O'Meara said. "I feel pretty lucky."
ON THE RISE: Justin Rose expected to be nervous, playing with Woods. But the youngest player in the field (21) calmly put his drive in the fairway, then birdied the second and third holes. He shot 68 to finish one off the lead.
Rose, the highest-ranked player in the world from England, finished fourth at the 1998 British Open as a 17-year-old amateur. He then turned pro, missed 21 straight cuts and fought his way back to the European tour, where he got his first victory this year. Rose has four victories on three continents this year, tying Woods for the most worldwide wins.
"There is definitely an aura about him," Rose said. "I think the first time you play with him it is a bit of an eye-opener. But I didn't get caught up in watching him. I focused on my own game."
-- BOB HARIG
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