Garcia out front, Tiger takes a dip, Lefty in danger

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland &

Sergio Garcia did just fine as a front-runner. Tiger Woods took a dip in Barry Burn. And Phil Mickelson headed for another British Open heartache.

Lefty was in serious danger of missing the cut at Carnoustie after taking a penalty early in the round, struggling with a shaky driver and botching a short putt at the end on the way to a 6-over-par 77 today.

"I thought I was playing a lot better than this," said Mickelson, who has only one top-10 finish at the Open.

Garcia has no such doubts about his game.

After opening with a brilliant 65 on a course that reduced him to tears eight years ago, the emotional Spaniard turned in a more workmanlike round of 71 to ward off potential challengers at the midway point.

"It wasn't an easy day out there. Those last few holes are playing really difficult," Garcia said. "But I managed to not make many mistakes. ... I didn't play as well as yesterday, but I was quite consistent."

Woods, who won the claret jug the last two years and opened with a 69, teed off in the afternoon looking to make up ground on the leader.

But the world's best player made an inexplicable mistake on his very first swing, yanking an iron into that nasty creek left of the fairway. He stared as the wayward shot in disbelief as it skipped into the water, then reached into his bag for another ball.

Woods bounced back with a birdie at the very next hole, as if sending a clear message that he wasn't about to fade away, not when he's got a chance to be the first player in more than a half-century to win three straight Opens.

A year ago, Garcia played with Woods in the final group Sunday but never seriously challenged for the championship, fading to a tie for fifth.

Now, it's Woods chasing Garcia, who keeps making the sort of testy putts that bedeviled him in the past. The leader has switched to a longer club that lodges in his belly, and the new technique seems to be working.

Other than a three-putt bogey at No. 4, Garcia's stroke on the green was confident and true.

"I just feel a bit more comfortable than I did with the little putter," he said. "More than anything, under pressure I think I can put a better stroke on it."

Mickelson had to take a one-stroke penalty at No. 2 after his ball plugged into the soggy turf. On the PGA Tour, he could have taken relief for an imbedded lie, but not under the Royal Ancient rules.

At the 18th, Lefty lost two more strokes. He drove into the Barry Burn, wound up missing about a 3-foot putt and took double bogey, signing for a 6-over 148.

Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez had one of the best shots of the day, nearly making a hole-in-one at the daunting, 248-yard 16th. His tee shot stopped just inches beyond the cup for a tap-in birdie, on the way to a 70 that had the "Mechanic" solidly in contention for his first major title.

Garcia, Jimenez and all the other Europeans are trying to break the continent's eight-year drought in the majors. Scotland's Paul Lawrie was the last to win one, at this very course in the '99 Open &

which, of course, is mostly remembered for its brutal conditions and Jan Van de Velde squandering a three-shot lead on the 72nd hole.

Ireland's Paul McGinley, a Ryder Cup stalwart for Europe, was another of the hopefuls. He went off in the afternoon after posting a 67 Thursday.

Jim Furyk, the 2003 U.S. Open winner and a runner-up last month at Oakmont, kept up his strong play in the majors with a second straight 70. He took a bogey at No. 10, but actually caught a break when a shot heading for the Barry Burn caught a bridge railing and stayed dry, albeit up against a tree that forced Furyk to improvise his next swing.

"I'm relatively happy," he said. "I made some mistakes, both physical and mental. But I played a bunch of practice rounds. I feel comfortable where to put the ball."

And be sure to tune in for the next episode of "Boo Does Britain."

Boo Weekley, a country boy from the Florida Panhandle, was making quite a splash in his first Open. He may be scared to drive on the left side of the road, but he was doing just fine at Carnoustie with a 2-under 140 total that put him four strokes behind Garcia.

Weekly got as low as 4 under before back-to-back bogeys at 15 and 16 pushed him to a 72.

Wearing camouflage long johns under his golf attire, Weekley was asked about his impressions of the British Open growing up. "I don't watch golf," he replied. "If it ain't huntin' and fishin', it don't interest me"

While Garcia was holding steady, the same couldn't be said for 18-year-old amateur Rory McIlroy. The kid from Holywood (Northern Ireland, not California) struggled to a 76 after rousing the galleries with a a bogey-free 68 Thursday.

His downfall started before the turn, when he knocked a shot out of bounds at No. 9. After taking a penalty drop, McIlroy missed a short putt and tapped in for double bogey. He quickly made two more bogeys on the back side, flipping his club in the air at one point in disgust.

Still, McIlroy was sure to make the cut in his first Open. Not bad.

"Just to play the weekend at the Open is fantastic," he said. "Hopefully I can enjoy the next couple of days and play some good golf."

While playing much easier than it did in '99, the course dubbed "Car-Nasty" can still live up to its name.

Vijay Singh made a double bogey at the final hole, sailing a 3-wood out of bounds, though he will get a chance at redemption on the weekend. Not so for John Daly.

The '95 Open champion, who briefly led on Thursday before dropping eight shots over the final seven holes, never recovered Friday. He took a 76, playing his last 25 holes at 13 over.

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