Tiger begins to find his feet again

By: samjack

When the leaders were walking down the first fairway vertical spikes of rain began to spear the course, but by then the real storm was moving onto the second nine. Tiger Woods had showered Troon with four birdies in his opening seven holes and was just one shot off the lead of the Open.
It was only when he hit his tee shot fat at the Postage Stamp that he had to take pause. He felt the earth move and with a good deal of it ending up in his eyes he temporarily lost focus. Four pars and a bogey followed as he fizzled out to a 68.
Woods has not been at his best this week, a fact reflected by the stillness of the galleries. The people have arrived at the course full of cheers and have left with most of them still in their lungs. When Woods was charging yesterday, he did so on soft feet. It was methodical rather than brilliant.
But he looks to be on the edge of another power surge. Even before his third round he said, “I’ve got a great chance of winning this,” “I love my position” and “I’m playing very well.” And for the first time in months we nearly believed him. For a long time he has been on his ‘D’ game, but this week there have been signs that his ‘B’ game is returning.
It was no great surprise to see him open with two birdies, but even then his move up the board didn’t intimidate the opposition as it has in the past. Thomas Levet, the runner up to Ernie Els in 2002, went to the turn in 33 to take a two-shot lead over Todd Hamilton. Phil Mickelson, Retief Goosen and Els moved into position. Skip Kendall and Barry Lane weren’t looking over their shoulders.
It was all a bit of a struggle for Colin Montgomerie. But whereas in the past his shoulders would have slumped and his chins wobbled, there was a great deal of grit. Each time he made a bogey he came back soon after with a birdie. It was a fine effort and his par saves on the 12th and 14th received the cheer of an Open champion.
The bunker shot that Monty played on the 14th forced him tottering backwards out of the bunker until he was seated on the back bank. It wasn’t elegant but it was brilliant.
This has been one of the most wondrous Opens of recent years. Every day has shimmered with great deeds and tall stories. On the Thursday Kenneth Perry holed his second at the first, Gary Evans holed a five-iron for an albatross at the fourth, Els holed in one at the Postage Stamp and Ian Poulter found the flag by turning up in a pair of Union Jack trousers. David Duval didn’t turn up at all.
Just as the second day seemed to be settling down a bloke apparently named after a rubbish container and a mint cake took over the lead at the Open. Skip Kendall then told how he used to hit balls in a field whilst wearing his waiter’s bowtie and is a cheesehead. That is the nickname of the supporters of the Green Bay Packers and the story goes that a fan once survived a plane crash thanks to the foam cheesehead stuck on his bonce.
Not to be outdone another less-than-famous American called Todd Hamilton told of the night when the circus came to his home town of Oquwawka and an elephant chained to a tree was hit by lightning. The townsfolk said goodbye to Norma Jean (the name of the unfortunate elephant who they had never really known and who apparently had died in the nude) and buried her in the main square.
Just as we thought things couldn’t get any stranger Levet came into the press centre, although that’s another story. But his presence reminded us that no fewer than five of the top 14 players were coached or had been coached by mental guru Jos Vanstiphout, the most famous diminutive Belgian since Hercule Poirot waxed his last moustache.
Before yesterday’s round Vanstiphout said he would be like a kangaroo or a grasshopper as he bounced between Michael Campbell and Els, the two men he is honing at this year’s Open. He then gave his assessment of the five players.
Levet is “the clown of the circus, but in a positive way. He takes everything with a bit of salt and a bit of pepper.” Campbell can “lose interest, lose his love of the game and you’ve got to love the game or it will kick you between the legs”. Els “is not really the Big Easy. He’s harder than soft and needs to be in contention.” Goosen is “Mr Cool who used to have zero point zero self belief”. And Barry Lane is “like a yo-yo. It will be interesting if he can take the pressure, but I think he can.”
Lane was one of 12 Englishmen to make the cut, surely the country’s most impressive return at an Open for years. And despite dropping a shot early on he spent much of the afternoon fulfilling Vanstiphout’s confidence. Not since Paul Lawrie won the Open in ’99 has a European won a major championship. Levet, Lane, Monty and even Lee Westwood are not without their chances, but with four of the best six players in the world still hanging around, one of them will have to go out and win it.

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