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BRITISH OPEN

Woods Gets In Last Shot

His eagle putt on the 18th hole is good for a 67 and has a vintage feel. He is one behind leader McDowell on a day filled with low scores.

July 21, 2006|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

HOYLAKE, England — Whatever becomes of this cavalry charge of a 135th British Open, a moment from quarter past 7 Thursday evening qualified as consequential on the 2006 golf calendar.

That's when the first round's loudest putt rolled into the 18th cup for eagle, Tiger Woods looked like Tiger Woods again and you could almost feel a densely populated leaderboard recoil in recollective shudder.

Two months after the death of the father whose guidance sowed 10 major titles and counting, one month after his first major missed cut at the U.S. Open, and one second after his 20-foot putt nestled into the cup, Woods gave Royal Liverpool Golf Club a fist pump right out of 2000.

Right-handed and overhand.

Putter, extended outward in left hand, awaiting gravity's invitation of golf ball into cup.

Crowd, wowed.

If the eagle gave him a 67, and the 67 gave him a share of second place, one shot behind first-round leader Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, his beaming interviews gave him away.

Asked if his confidence felt replenished, Woods said, "Shooting 67 makes me feel good, yes."

Even at a wizened 30, he looked 25 again, with his usual rarefied resourcefulness. Just that morning, he'd read the putt on No. 18 through a TV screen, and while he couldn't remember which player, he saw somebody putt from the same spot, right of the cup, and he reckoned, "It doesn't break at the end, it holds the line."

He played it to the right edge, it held the line, and his smile in post-round interviews took on infectious wattage. "Normally, I would have given that hole away if I hadn't seen that putt earlier in the morning," he said.

Normally, he might've burrowed into the teeming pack of golfers on the pinball-machine leaderboard. With the English heat wave already taming the rough, and a Wednesday night thunderstorm rendering the greens no longer linoleum, the world's best golfers followed a half-hour delay with a 14-hour siege.

Ninety-one of the 156 scored par or better, and 67 broke par, the most since the British Open started keeping record of such things beginning in 1956. Everybody but the clubhouse attendants seemed to break par (and some of them might have if allowed), including players from Finland, South Korea, Northern Ireland and the usual hot spots like Australia, South Africa and even the reputedly beleaguered United States.

Long before Woods' moment reminded any forgetful sorts who won this thing last year, and long before the day dried out in more temperate temperatures than of late, those with morning tee times had an edge. The horde of 68s that started appearing and then multiplying included 2002 champion Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Mike Weir, plus S.K. Ho from South Korea and Mikko Ilonen from Finland, who said, "It's very easy out there."

Australian Mark Hensby had triple bogey on No. 3 and still shot 68.

The eventual 13 rounds of 68 would give way to Englishmen Greg Owen and Anthony Wall, who recorded the first two 67s, with Wall unsurprised because, "I have two legs and two arms." With those modest requirements, soon enough Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain and Keiichiro Fukabori of Japan latched on at 67, preceding Woods.

About an hour before Woods' eagle, McDowell, 26, finished his six-birdie, zero-bogey 66, then admitted his on-course thoughts turned to the late Fred Daly, also from Northern Ireland, who in 1947 on this very ground became the only Irish British Open champion.

"The brain doesn't really experience leading an Open very often, and it conjures up all kinds of nice scenarios," McDowell said at only his third Open. "But obviously I've got to take myself back into the present very quickly."

In the present during which he spoke, Woods progressed through the late back nine along with Nick Faldo, whose 77 ranked as the sixth-worst round of the day, and Shingo Katayama, who shot 74. Woods made birdie on No. 16 to go three under par, a level much less clamorous than the five-under he'd access moments later.

On Tuesday, he had spoken of bereavement of a father with whom the bond, in his words, "transcended just a normal parent-child relationship." Said Woods: "I've come to terms with it, there's no doubt about that. He's not there anymore. It's not like I can pick up the phone and call him and say, 'Pop, what do you think about my putting stroke?' Those days aren't here anymore.

"So I've got to come to terms with it and understand, it's just not there. I have so many wonderful memories that I'll look back on with smiles every time."

Having played only six competitive rounds across three months that included Earl Woods' death on May 3, but having felt an inner turnaround two weeks ago at the Western Open where he finished second, Woods started No. 18 with a two-iron, a favorite club on the day.

Some 236 yards from the front of the green after that, he struck a four-iron to within 20 feet.

Just a few minutes after that, he looked very much like Tiger Woods, with the fist-pump overhand.

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