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Slammed

Woods' Slam bid is gone with the wind (and rain); Els takes lead

By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 21, 2002


GULLANE, Scotland -- Tiger Woods needed a scarf and mittens, and he played as if he were wearing them.

Who knew the roadblock in Woods' journey to Grand Slam history would be winter?

The wind blew off the Firth of Forth, turning Muirfield into muck Saturday and the 131st Open Championship into hockey. And there was Woods, slashing his way through the rough to a career-worst 81, all but ending his hopes.

Woods began the third round tied for ninth place, two shots behind the leaders. He slid to 67th, 11 strokes behind Ernie Els, who was in position to win his third major championship.

Unfortunately for Woods, who won the Masters and U.S. Open this year to become the first since Jack Nicklaus in 1972 to win both majors heading into the British Open, the Claret Jug slipped out of his hands in the cold rain.

"I kept looking on the ground to see if there was sleet," he said. "It sure hurt."

Woods made his first double bogey in a major championship since the PGA Championship. He shot his first score in the 80s as a pro. He hit just half the fairways and seven greens in regulation. He couldn't make an important putt, finally getting a birdie to fall on the 17th green.

Woods dropped his putter and raised his arms in mock celebration. He forced a smile. There was little to be happy about for Woods, whose struggles in the horrid weather were shocking.

This typically is when Tiger excels, when the conditions are at their worst, when others complain and give up. That's what he did in June at Bethpage in New York, where some players whined about the second-round rain at the U.S. Open and Woods shot the best score.

This time he couldn't get it done. More than two hours of his round were played in the worst weather, and he was 7 over par through 10 holes. His Grand Slam bid was over.

"I am disappointed," Woods said. "Frustrated in the way that I was not able to hit the ball today. On top of that, I didn't make any putts again. It was just a tough day. I tried all the way around. I kept grinding it out, and thank God I was grinding because it could have been really a high number."

For once Woods lacked the fortitude his rivals have been accused of missing. And which Els showed.

The third-ranked player in the world and winner of the U.S. Open in 1994 and '97, Els endured the weather on the first nine and shot 4 over. But he rallied with four birdies coming in to shoot 72. He finished at 5-under 208, two shots ahead of unheralded Soren Hansen from Denmark.

"I'm just happy to be in the house," said Els, 32. "It was some of the toughest conditions I've ever seen. The front nine, there almost was not a putt to be made out there. ... Standing on the fourth tee, with no easy holes coming, I thought at best to have broken 76 or 77 today would have been a hell of a score, the way the weather conditions were.

"I'm sure the Scottish people really enjoyed it. They must have been laughing because they probably play in this 80 percent of the time. It was one of the most difficult days I can ever remember."

How tough was it? None of the last 32 players to tee off broke par. Those 32 combined to shoot 179 over par. They probably thought they should have built snowmen instead of making them on their scorecards. The windchill factor at one point was 37 degrees.

Colin Montgomerie followed his second-round 64 with 84. Duffy Waldorf, tied for the lead when the round began, was 10 over through 10 holes. Another second-round leader, Bob Tway, shot 78.

Nick Price, who led early in the round before slumping to 75, said his 209-yard tee shot at the par-3 fourth hole required him to use a driver, which he normally hits 275-280 yards.

"I left it two yards short of pin high, so it went about 207," said Price, who was tied for 14th, five back. "That was the best green in regulation I ever made in my life."

"I think it's the toughest round I've ever played," said Hansen, 28, who shot 73 to contend in his second British Open. "I can't remember playing even for fun in this weather. It was hammering down straight in our face. You couldn't hardly hold an umbrella. My caddie and I were talking about if this was the worst weather ever in the British Open. And I don't know. It's been 131 years. I don't know if they've had such a tough day as this one, but it was definitely difficult, and it was a long, big grind for everybody, I guess."

Several players benefited from the poor conditions. Former British Open champion Justin Leonard got out early and shot 68, as did Justin Rose. They were safe and warm in the clubhouse when everyone else started sliding back. By the time the day was done they had moved into a tie for third at 211, three shots behind Els. They were tied with Sergio Garcia (71), Scott McCarron (72), Thomas Bjorn (73), Shigeki Maruyama (75) and Ireland's Des Smyth (74), who at age 49 would become the oldest major championship winner.

Padraig Harrington, Peter Lonard, Thomas Levet and Steve Elkington were at 212.

The secret was to beat the weather. Funny, but had Woods started earlier and in a worse position, he might be chasing the Grand Slam today.

"We all understand that is just the way the Open Championship is," said Woods, who will finish the final round before most people in the United States wake up today. "The weather is unpredictable and anything can happen, and it has happened, and I am sure it will continue to be that way. If you are playing in conditions like that and you are not playing well and hitting the ball solidly ... your score is going to add up."

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