Sunday, July 18, 2004

Tiger back in majors title hunt


British Open notebook

By SAM WEINMAN
The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

TROON, Scotland - The question was inevitable, one he had to expect. And yet when Tiger Woods was asked if his third round pairing with Adam Scott added any extra incentive at Royal Troon Saturday, the world's No. 1 shook his head and offered a solitary, "No."

No further comment was necessary on a day when Woods outplayed Scott by six strokes, his strongest argument in months that he was coping without Butch Harmon, the man who once served as Woods' teacher and still holds the same role for Scott.

For months, pundits have said Woods is lost without the help of Harmon, and yet after making four birdies on the front nine en route to a 68, he is now four shots behind leader Todd Hamilton heading into Sunday's final round.

For the second consecutive year, Woods is in contention at The Open Championship, and for the second consecutive year, the players in the mix alongside him rank among the top in the game. But Woods is quick to say the names of the players he's competing against is almost irrelevant.

"Don't forget anyone at the top of the leaderboard is playing well," he said.

That would include Woods, who has often substituted his driver this week for a 4-iron off the tee, a low-flying shot that has enabled him to be effective in the wind. On the front nine, it meant capitalizing on opportunities on four of his first seven holes, and on the back, it meant minimizing mistakes.

"I played really well today," said Woods, who, with a win would complete the career Grand Slam two times over. "Since the Saturday of the Western Open, I have things starting to come together. And today was one of those days when I really played well. I gave myself some good chances early, made some good putts, got off to a great start and then from there just played solid coming home."

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Tough life: Alas, the Colin Montgomerie Love-In might be coming to a close. After the volatile Scot bogeyed the final hole to finish at 3-under, chances are he rubbed a few people the wrong way with his comments on life as a professional golfer. This, keep in mind, was someone who has been basking in gallery support all week at Troon.

"Anyone who says this is fun is joking and they're having a laugh," Montgomerie said when asked if he was enjoying playing his home course this week. "This is not fun and this is not enjoyment. This is a job and a horrible one."

Montgomerie went on to say the job might be a lot more tolerable if he claimed the claret jug Sunday, but by then, the damage might have been done, especially given the attention he's received in the British press this week.

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Parallel paths: It's difficult not to notice the similarities between 54-hole leader Todd Hamilton and Brian Watts, another American player who went on to star in Japan. And like Hamilton, Watts was in contention in a major, in 1998 taking the 54-hole lead at Royal Birkdale before eventually losing in a playoff to Mark O'Meara. As it turns out, the similarities don't end there. The two are good friends, and Hamilton is planning on moving to a house practically next door to Watts' outside Dallas.

"Our careers have kind of mirrored each other," Hamilton said.

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Chip shots: Halfway leader Skip Kendall struggled in the final group, finishing with a 75 to drop to 3-under, five shots behind Hamilton. His playing partner, Thomas Levet, meanwhile, is in better shape. He got to as low as 9-under before a double bogey on the 11th, and is now two shots off the lead at 6-under. Hamilton's 54-hole total of 205 is the lowest at The Open since Woods was at 16-under 200 through three rounds at St. Andrews in 2000.




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