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Norman trails Otto by one stroke for British Open tournament lead

Wild first round at Royal St. George's

Posted: Friday, July 18, 2003

SANDWICH, England The British Open was full of mystery Thursday.

How could Tiger Woods hit a tee shot into a small patch of thick grass before thousands of people without the ball being found?

Can Greg Norman, winless in five years and without a major since he ruled Royal St. George's a decade ago, conspire with fate to capture another claret jug?

More importantly, who's Hennie Otto?

A wild and windy day at Royal St. George's unleashed a slew of surprises, none greater than Otto making one long putt after another for a 3-under 68 and a one-stroke lead in the first round of the British Open.

Everyone said this was a quirky course. It didn't take long for the proof to pile up.

Woods lost a ball on his first tee shot, made triple bogey and had to birdie two of the last four holes just to shoot 73.

''You can shoot yourself right out of this event,'' Woods said. ''I just tried to be as patient as possible.''

Ernie Els, trying to become the first player in 20 years to repeat as British Open champion, went 18 holes without a birdie and shot 78, his worst ever in this major.

David Toms and David Duval were among four past major winners who didn't break 80.

Norman, who has played only two tournaments this year, hit the kind of shots he did 10 years ago and got similar results, a 69 that left him one shot behind with Davis Love III.

Still, the biggest surprise was Otto, who had to play a 36-hole qualifier earlier this week just to get a tee time at the British Open.

''You've got to relax and take what the course gives you,'' Otto said.

Royal St. George's certainly doled it out.

Only five players managed to break par in the first round, the lowest number since no one did at Carnoustie in 1999.

S.K. Ho and Fredrik Jacobson were at 70, and Jacobson can claim perhaps the best round of the day no bogeys despite 35 mph gusts late in the afternoon.

Duval and Toms were among 25 players who didn't break 80.

Norman, meanwhile, played like the Shark of old.

Sure, that shock of blond hair is tinged with streaks of gray, and a few more wrinkles surround those piercing blue eyes. Norman, 48, also has been slowed by a bad back.

Is he back?

''If I get myself in position after the first two rounds, hopefully momentum will start to build,'' Norman said. ''I think 69 is a good start to that momentum. I hope I can keep pushing it forward.''

At times, it looked as if he never left, especially on the par-5 fourth. From 194 yards, Norman punched a 4-iron that scooted up the severe shelf of the green and trickled down the slope to 6 inches for a tap-in eagle.

''You've got to be able to feel comfortable with those shots,'' he said.

Love, who has never seriously contended in his favorite major, made only one mistake in an otherwise solid round. He played conservatively off the 18th tee with a 3-wood that left him a 4-iron to the green. He missed to the left, and failed to save par.

Tom Watson flirted with the lead for the second straight time in a major. He fell apart at the end, a double bogey-bogey finish for 71.

Also at even-par 71 was Charles Howell III, Fred Couples and Gary Evans, known best for losing his ball on the 17th hole at Muirfield last year.

Woods can relate.

He knew he was in deep rough, and it wasn't long before he realized he was in deep trouble. As he walked up the first fairway, he saw a search party of two dozen people in a desperate attempt to find his ball.

''Did you guys see where it went?'' Woods inquired of thousands of fans, who pointed him this way and that as his frustration grew.

Woods cursed as he got into a cart for the long ride back to the tee. He picked up two birdies, then gave them back with three consecutive bogeys by driving into bunkers and into more rough, one shot traveling some 15 yards.

The good news?

''I kept myself in the tournament,'' Woods said.

That was no small task on a links that punished players when they least expected it.

The rough was so high in spots that Shigeki Maruyama dug deep into the grass with a wedge on the fourth hole and two balls came out. Another one was buried beneath his ball, probably left behind the last time the British Open was played here.

Jerry Kelly hit four shots that traveled a combined 14 feet on the first hole. He made an 11, and had to withdraw with an injury after his club met a clump of grass that didn't budge late in his round of 86.

The wind was so vicious that Phil Mickelson was assessed a one-stroke penalty when his ball moved on the 15th green as he stood over the ball, giving him a double bogey.

He was tied for the lead at 3 under with a short birdie putt on No. 8, but finished with a 74. At one point, he went seven holes without a par an eagle, two birdies and four bogeys.

''As hard as it blew, I thought it was a good round,'' Mickelson said. ''You couldn't land an airplane in a crosswind this strong.''

That left the stage to Otto, a part-time player on the European tour who once got so mad after a tournament in South Africa that he stopped on a bridge, broke every club in his bag and tossed them all into the water.

''I'm much calmer now,'' he said. ''I'm still a bit edgy sometimes, but that's changed.''

Besides, ''I'm playing with better clubs.''

The most important club in his bag was the putter. He made a 35-footer for par on No. 4, holed from 25 feet on No. 8 and added a couple of 30-footers on the 12th and 13th to take the outright lead.

Can he keep it for three more days?

''I hope so,'' Otto said. ''Give it to me now. I'll take it.''

Then again, the British Open is loaded with unheralded players who find glory to be short-lived at golf's oldest championship.

Remember Rod Pampling? He led after the first round at Carnoustie in 1999 and became a footnote as the only first-round leader to miss the cut in the British Open.

And here's some more history that Woods should keep in mind. Norman opened with a double bogey in 1993 when he won the claret jug at Royal St. George's.



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