CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (AP) — The British Open was buzzing, and Sergio Garcia could not ignore it.
Even if it wasn’t for him.
Before he holed a testy par putt on the 18th green at Carnoustie to protect his position atop the leaderboard, Garcia was startled by the strange sound coming from Tiger Woods’ direction on the first tee Friday.
Cheers were replaced by groans and gasps at the sight of the two-time defending champion hitting perhaps his worst opening shot in any round of any major. It was a duck-hook with an iron that sailed over the gallery, bounced along the turf and disappeared into Barry Burn, the winding stream that usually doesn’t come into play until the final hole, not the first one.
Garcia turned to see what the fuss was about, not able to see where the ball wound up.
“I didn’t know he went into the burn,” Garcia said.
By the end of another demanding round on golf’s toughest links course, Woods was lucky that Garcia was not out of his sights.
Garcia took another step toward validating his promise, grinding his way through chilly breezes with birdies on both par 5s and only a couple of mistakes for an even-par 71 that gave him a two-shot lead over K.J. Choi.
He has contended for majors since he was a teenager, but the 27-year-old Spaniard looks as though he might finally have figured them out. Garcia wasn’t at his best in the second round, but he was good enough.
“I was hoping for a little better than what I did,” said Garcia, who was at 6-under 136. “But that was not a bad round. Every time you shoot on a difficult course … an under-par or even-par round, you know you’re not too far away.”
Choi, perhaps the hottest player in golf with victories at two big tournaments in the last two months, was bearing down on Garcia with a string of birdies along the back nine until a bogey on the final hole that was a foot away from being worse. His tee shot narrowly avoided the burn left of the 18th fairway, forcing Choi to stand on the stone steps and punch back to the fairway.
“You’ve just got to play that hole as a par 5,” Choi said after a 69. “Even if you get a bogey, just consider it a good par.”
They will be in the final group Saturday of a major that is starting to take shape.
Garcia, who has twice played in the final group with Woods in a major and lost a spirited duel to him at Medinah in the ’99 PGA Championship, also started his second round in trouble. But after a shaky approach that he described as a shank, he hit a daring chip out of deep rough, skirting around trouble and stopping within a few feet of the hole to save par. He was on his way.
“It kept me in the right mood,” Garcia said.
The best round of the day belonged to former Masters champion Mike Weir of Canada, a 68 that put him at 3-under 139 along with Miguel Angel Jimenez, who had a 70. Another shot behind was former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk (70) and Boo Weekley, whose backwoods charm is starting to captivate Britain as much as his ball-striking.
Missing from the mix is Phil Mickelson, who missed the cut for the second straight time in a major.
Lefty figured he needed a par on the final hole to have any chance, then promptly hit a power fade into Barry Burn for double bogey and a 77. It was a setback for the three-time major champion, who lost in a playoff last week at the Scottish Open.
“I thought I was playing better than this,” Mickelson said.