Tiger goes for a three-peat at damp British Open

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland &

The chip-in at the 2005 Masters that somehow went in. The 4-iron holed out from the fairway at Hoylake a year ago. And now, Tiger Woods has another improbable shot for his majors collection.

Woods sank a 90-foot birdie putt today at damp, chilly Carnoustie on his way to a 2-under-par 69, putting himself solidly in contention for his third straight British Open championship.

Paul McGinley of Ireland was the early leader with a 67, one stroke ahead of Michael Campbell and two in front of Woods for those in the clubhouse.

At the par-3 16th, Woods' tee shot barely made the front of the green. He was only worried about avoiding a bogey when he sent the ball rolling toward the cup. It kept going and going and going, finally dropping in.

Woods threw both arms in the air, then shrugged his shoulders as he looked toward caddie Steve Williams.

"I was just trying to get it up there close," Woods said. "I wanted to get it up where I would have an easy second putt. Lo and behold, it falls in."

As if Woods doesn't have enough talent, the Royal Ancient was there to help him along.

When he tugged his tee shot into deep rough left of the 10th fairway, the ball settled on a strand of television cables. The rules official, Alan Holmes, gave Woods relief within one club length, claiming the cables couldn't be moved. But Mark Roe, a former European tour player now working for the BBC, moved them — feet.

The ruling enabled Woods to drop in trampled grass. He hit a long iron to just short of the green, followed with a nifty pitch and saved par with an 8-foot putt.

"That was a weird drop," Woods said. "I didn't ask for it. The guy just said I could."

Maybe he'll have another Sunday duel with Campbell, who held off Woods at the 2005 U.S. Open but struggled to stay motivated after his first major title.

"Setting the goal of winning a major was probably a mistake," Campbell said. "I should have said majors."

Two years later, it looks like his head is back in the game. Making a bold fashion statement in a hot pink shirt, Campbell shot 68 to leave himself one stroke off the lead &

and one ahead of Woods.

Campbell sank three long birdie putts, then hit a wonderful approach to — feet at the tough 17th hole for his final birdie on a dreary day that started out with a steady drizzle, chilling breeze and temperatures struggling to crack 50 degrees.

"It was tough," Campbell said.

A dozen years ago, he surged to prominence by finishing third in the Open at St. Andrews. But his enormous potential was not fully realized until he bested Woods at Pinehurst for his first major crown.

Campbell's lone win since then was at the '05 World Match Play Championship, and he came to Carnoustie having struggled just to make cuts this year. He tied for 58th at the U.S. Open last month and failed to make it to the weekend at the Masters.

That shouldn't be a problem this week.

"It's very satisfying," the 38-year-old New Zealander said. "It's probably the best start to a major for me over the last 12 or 13 years. It's nice to see my name up on the leaderboard."

For much of the round, Woods looked as though he was on his way to pop a casserole in the oven. Like several of his competitors, he wore oversized gloves to keep his hands warm between shots.

Woods birdied No. — to get into the red and made a 20-footer for eagle at the par-5 sixth. He waved his putter to the cheering gallery after the ball dipped into the cup on the 578-yard hole known as Hogan's Alley.

After posting a 3-under 33 on the front side for a share of the lead, Woods had back-to-back bogeys at the 12th and 13th holes. The long birdie put a smile back on his face.

With a new daughter back in Florida, Woods already has three Open titles and is trying to become the first player since Peter Thomson (1954-56) to win three in a row. He's also trying to shake off the memory of coming up just short in the first two majors of the year, finishing second at both the Masters (two shots behind Zach Johnson) and U.S. Open (one stroke off Angel Cabrera).

K.J. Choi of South Korea, who's won twice on the PGA Tour this year, kept up his strong play with a 69. American Stewart Cink put up the same score.

Coming off wins at the Memorial and ATT National, Choi birdied four of the first six holes, then limped home with a couple of bogeys on the brutal finishing stretch. Still, he's solidly in contention to fulfill his goal of becoming the first Asian golfer to win a major title.

"I don't want to get ahead of myself," he said. "If I think it might happen, then things can go wrong. If I stick to my routine until the end of the week, who knows? It might be good for me."

Some of the expected contenders, such as Cabrera, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson, had afternoon tee times. The conditions looked ugly but were primed for going low.

The early showers further dampened the already soft greens. The breeze whipping in off the North Sea wasn't too imposing. And the knee-high rough that made things so tough in 1999 &

the last time a British Open was held at "Car-Nasty" &

was shaved down this time around.

The only thing to complain about was the Scottish "summer." As he stepped up to the first tee, John Rollins blew into his hand, trying to keep it warm. Then, as he sized up his second shot, he let out a big exhale. Yep, he could see his breath.

Of course, after the searing heat of Royal St. George's in 2003 and the sun-baked fairways of Royal Liverpool last year, this was more like a British Open. Butch Harmon watched the early starters tee off from the second-floor window of his hotel room.

"It's the skybox," the coaching guru quipped.

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