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NOTES

It May Be a Very Big Weekend

July 22, 2006|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

HOYLAKE, England — The so-called "big five" dominated golf talk early last year, then subsided into a "big two" of Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, but appears resurgent.

Ernie Els, the 2002 British Open champion who seems recovered from a sailing-holiday knee injury, began the weekend at 11 under par, one shot behind Woods, after shooting 68-65.

"If I'm in your top five again, that would be great," Els told reporters, then quipped, "Maybe I'll be in your top three, who knows."

Retief Goosen, who, like Woods, missed the cut last month at the U.S. Open, roared up the board into fourth place, four shots behind Woods, after opening with 70-66, then predicting 20 under might win.

"The rough is down and dry and there is nothing the organizers can do about it," said Goosen, who had eagles on the fifth and 16th holes.

Mickelson, with a Masters title and a U.S. Open near-title (he finished second), started today eight shots off the lead at four under after a 71. Of the "big five," only Vijay Singh had a tough tournament. His 146 missed the lowest cut in major-tournament history, one-under 143.

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Until Els barged up the leaderboard into second place with a course record-tying 65 late Friday, it looked as if Woods and Chris DiMarco might make an evocative third-round final pairing after their 65s.

As Woods has coped since May with the death of his father, Earl, DiMarco has coped since only July 4 with the death of his mother, Norma, a process that included insisting that his father, Rich, join him in England.

"Walking between the ropes is absolutely therapeutic for me," said Chris DiMarco, the playoff runner-up to Singh at the 2004 PGA and Woods at the 2005 Masters. "Walking outside the ropes for him with me playing well is absolutely therapeutic for him."

DiMarco bought his father's ticket without asking him, then told him it was non-refundable. As for his mother, who died of an apparent heart attack, DiMarco, 37, said, "She would be absolutely [disappointed] if I didn't play."

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Five-time champion Tom Watson, 56, made the cut for the second consecutive year, with a two-under par 142, even though Nos. 16 and 17 cost him three strokes with his back-to-back 6s.

"It's disappointing the way I'm playing," he said. "I'm glad I'm here on the weekend, but I'm going to have to change something."

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Graeme McDowell, the first-round leader from Northern Ireland, followed his 66 with a 73 and said, "I didn't sleep well, no, but I'm going to put that down to the heating and not nerves."

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Six of the world's top 10 players entered the weekend in the British Open's top 10: No. 1 Woods is the leader, No. 8 Els is second, No. 4 Goosen is fourth, No. 6 Adam Scott is tied for fifth, and No. 5 Jim Furyk and No. 9 Sergio Garcia are tied for ninth.

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Conscientious objectors to golf's 21st-century fitness craze long have had John Daly, but also the 42-year-old Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez.

Asked if he'd hit the gym after his second-round 70 that left him in fifth place, at seven under par alongside Mikko Ilonen of Finland and Scott of Australia, Jimenez said, "No, no. I will go and have my beer now and maybe wine with lunch. Then I will have a nice big cigar."

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Europeans, who dominate the Ryder Cup but haven't won any of the last 27 majors, since Paul Lawrie's 1999 British title, largely fell off in the second round, leaving Jimenez and Finland's Ilonen as their highest contending representatives. Little-known Robert Rock of England is alone at six under.

Darren Clarke shot an 82 and missed the cut, along with Daly, Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington.

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