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Tiger Woods Soars to British Open Lead

July 21, 2006

HOYLAKE, England (AP) _ Tiger Woods shot a 7-under par 65 on Friday to take the lead at the British Open with a two-day 12-under 132 and a three-shot lead over Chris DeMarco. DeMarco also shot a 65 Friday for a two-day total of 135.

Only one other golfer, two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen at 8 under with two holes to play, was within five strokes of Woods at that point, though many of the top players, including Phil Mickelson, had yet to tee off.

Woods grabbed the lead when he stood over a 4-iron at No. 14, some 200 yards from the flag. He ripped a low shot that caught the edge of the green and hopped three more times before striking the stick, dropping straight in for eagle.

Walking toward the green, Woods heard the gallery roar but didn’t know where his ball ended up. When Williams told him it was in the cup, the golfer broke into a wide grin, gave his caddie a high-five and shrugged his shoulders, almost as if he was apologizing. Williams jokingly attempted to put the bag on Woods’ shoulder as the two made a triumphant walk up the fairway.

``It’s a bonus,″ Woods said. ``Trust me, I’m not trying to put the ball in the hole. I’m just trying to put it on the green and get out of there with a 4.″

Instead, he wrote down a 2 _ and may have just written off the rest of the field.

Everyone faces the daunting task of chasing down Woods, who never has been beaten when he has a 36-hole lead in a major. He’s 6-0 when running up front at the halfway point, most recently a year ago at St. Andrews for his second British Open title.

``I made a few bombs,″ said Woods, who also made a long birdie putt at No. 8. ``Right now, I’m playing with what the golf course allows me to do. You just never know. Everyone’s got an opportunity. Chris and I both shot low numbers, so it can be had. I’m just glad I got mine in early so I can get some work in this afternoon.″

That can’t be a comforting thought for the rest of the field: a rested, well-practiced Woods returning on the weekend with a lead.

DiMarco, who still has hopes of making the U.S. Ryder Cup team, wasn’t even sure he would play the British after his mother, Norma, died two weeks ago from an apparent heart attack.

But instead of dropping out, DiMarco decided this historic links course along the Irish Sea would be an ideal place for everyone in his family to do some healing and begin getting on with their lives. So far, golf has been the perfect salve.

``If I hadn’t come, she would have been mad at me,″ DiMarco said of his mother, who attended many of his tournaments and always enjoyed watching her son play.

DiMarco birdied the first two holes and moved to the top of the leaderboard with an even longer run of four in a row starting at No. 8. The American was the first to break Graeme McDowell’s 1-day-old record for the best Open score at Royal Liverpool _ until Woods matched it less than an hour later.

DiMarco hasn’t won on the PGA Tour in four years, and his hopes of making the Ryder Cup team plummeted this year after he injured his ribs while skiing and struggled to regain his form.

He’s certainly played well for his country, earning 2 1/2 points in the Ryder Cup two years ago and clinching the Presidents Cup with a 15-foot putt last fall. A strong performance at the British Open could be a major factor in at least being one of the captain’s picks should he not crack the top 10.

But he couldn’t hold off Woods, who denied DiMarco his first major title in a Masters playoff in 2005.

His white shirt soaked with sweat on another warm, sunny day, Woods didn’t have to worry about making it to the weekend this time, opening with a 67 and positioning himself for a run at his 11th major championship.

He is clearly back in the game after taking an extended break to cope with the death of his father and missing the cut at the U.S. Open last month _ the first time that’s happened at a major since Woods turned pro.

McDowell didn’t come close to replicating his six-birdie, no-bogey 66 from Thursday. The little-known golfer from Northern Ireland bogeyed the first hole and slumped to a 73, going from a one-stroke lead to a seven-shot deficit.

Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez started out like it was going to be his day. He had a four-stroke lead after playing the first five holes at 4 under, capped by an 18-foot eagle at the only par 5 on the front.

But Jimenez’s blazing start didn’t last. He had two straight bogeys after the eagle and finished with a 70, leaving him with a 137 total that was five strokes behind Woods. Adam Scott of Australia was tied with the Spaniard, also was at 7 under.

A pair of Englishmen, Greg Owen and Anthony Wall, opened with 67s and were set to tee off in the afternoon. Mickelson had a late tee time after shooting a 69 on Thursday, showing no lingering effects from the debacle at Winged Foot.

Lefty could have arrived at the British Open with a chance to win his fourth straight major title, a feat accomplished only by Woods in the modern era. But Mickelson gave away the U.S. Open with a double bogey on the final hole when a par would have been good enough to win.

If he wants to get in position to win again, he’ll have to chase down Woods.

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