Bjorn leads after crazy day on links

Posted: Sunday, July 20, 2003

SANDWICH, England The shot was pure magic, and so was the moment.

Hoping to make par, Tiger Woods measured his swing to avoid the sod-brick walls of the pot bunker and then holed out for eagle, his first lead all week at the British Open.

Tournament over, right?

Not on this golf course. Not at this major championship.

By the end of another wild day on these most unpredictable links, Thomas Bjorn emerged with a one-stroke lead Saturday that made him the instant underdog.

''There's a couple of guys out there that know how to win majors,'' Bjorn said. ''I don't.''

Those guys include Davis Love III, a former PGA champion who will go off in the final group Sunday with Bjorn.

Playing ahead of them will be Woods and two-time major winner Vijay Singh, among five players in the group two shots behind.

Adding to the All-Star cast of contenders are Kenny Perry, with three victories in his last four starts, and Sergio Garcia, no stranger to Sunday pressure in a major.

Bjorn played it safe and finished with 11 straight pars for a 2-under 69, giving him his first lead in a major. At 212, he was the only man under par at Royal St. George's.

''There's some big names up there,'' Bjorn said. ''I've got to play solid golf to beat them.''

Mark Roe of England won't get that chance.

He blew kisses to the gallery as he walked off the 18th green with a 67 that put him in the thick of the championship only to discover minutes later he was disqualified for putting Jesper Parnevik's score (81) on his card.

''I've just played one of the greatest rounds of my life,'' said Roe, who also would have been two shots off the lead. ''And I can't play tomorrow.''

Bizarre? Not at this British Open.

The craziness won't end until someone is holding the silver claret jug and that could be anybody.

Bjorn doesn't have a lot of major championship experience, but he went toe-to-toe with Woods over 72 holes and beat him three years ago at the Dubai Desert Classic.

''That would be a good memory for everybody,'' he said.

Love, whose three victories this year include a closing 64 in the wind at The Players Championship, overcame a bad start with an eagle and four pars down the stretch for a 72.

Woods is trying to join Jack Nicklaus with a second career Grand Slam. Despite four bogeys over the final eight holes, he shot 69 and got everyone's attention.

''I expect like everyone else that Tiger is going to go out and play his best game tomorrow and win this golf tournament,'' Bjorn said.

Garcia chopped out of the rough twice on the 17th hole and was on the verge of posting a big number until holing a 60-yard wedge for ''the best par of my life'' and a 70.

Singh turned in the streakiest round of the day with only two pars over his final 12 holes. An eagle-birdie-birdie stretch was followed by four straight bogeys, and the big Fijian showed enough heart to birdie three of the final four for a 69.

''I thought I was totally out of it,'' Singh said. ''Quite happy with the way I finished.''

Perry might be the most dangerous of all. The hottest player in golf, even a rare trip to the British Open his first since 1991 didn't stop him. He shot a 70.

There were a dozen players within four shots of the lead, with defending champion Ernie Els (72) still hoping for a miracle from six strokes behind.

So many big names at the top was reminiscent of what it was like 10 years ago at Royal St. George's, when Greg Norman won a shootout against eight of the best players in golf.

Love knew that would happen when the zany week started.

''I don't think anybody can run away and hide,'' he said. ''Every time you get on a run, something knocks you back. There's going to be a lot of players hanging around.''

Love is lucky he's one of them.

He squandered his two-shot lead with a couple of three-putt bogeys and was sliding farther down the leaderboard when he came up with his best shot of the day, a 1-iron into 30 feet for eagle on the par-5 14th.

He made a 6-foot putt on the 18th for his fourth straight par.

''There's going to be four or five guys that can win the golf tournament with just a few holes to go,'' Love said. ''It's going to be very tight. I was intent on making that putt on the last hole so I could be in the last group and watch the action from behind.''

That means he gets to watch Woods, which can be intimidating.

Woods' legs were close to the walls of a pot bunker at the par-5 seventh. He had to make sure his swing was steep enough not to hit the lip going back and shallow enough going through to give the ball enough speed to get to the upper shelf.

''It wasn't a shot I was trying to get close,'' he said.

It came out perfectly, scooting along the green and dropping into the cup on the last turn. Woods raised both arms and looked to the skies, a celebration the British are used to seeing only after match point at Wimbledon.

Woods added a 30-foot birdie on the ninth and momentum was building.

As usual, the back nine at Royal St. George's has the last word.

Two bad breaks, one bad drive and a bad putt added to four bogeys and a spot where Woods has never had success trying to win from behind.

He has never won a major when he didn't have at least a share of the lead going into the final round. He has never won a tournament when he shoots over par in the first round.

''Not one of those things I'm really thinking about,'' Woods said. ''I've won eight a different way, so maybe I can win one this way.''

And Bjorn?

The 32-year-old Dane has won seven times in Europe and has never contended on the back nine Sunday at a major. But his win over Woods at Dubai should count for something.

''It's a nice feeling to know you can go head-to-head with the guy and do well,'' Bjorn said. ''But this is a major championship. This is different. He's got a few more experiences walking out there on Sunday in the majors.''

None of the contenders know what to expect from Royal St. George's, the quirkiest of the British Open links, a course that allows for birdies on the first seven holes and demands survival until someone's name is on the claret jug.

''It's probably going to weed itself out on the back nine,'' Woods said. ''At least put yourself in position so you have a chance.''

He could have been speaking for anyone.

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