CARNOUSTIE, Scotland — Tiger Woods took an iron for safety off the first tee but hit his opening shot dead left into the Barry Burn. He made double-bogey 6, fought his swing the rest of the day and came in with a three-over 74. He is one over for the tournament and seven off the lead halfway through the 136th British Open at Carnoustie.
Phil Mickelson, a perennial also-ran in the British Open, where the wind plays havoc with his high ball flight, fared even worse than usual. This time the culprit was his short game, which produced 65 putts over two days. He finished six over and missed the cut for the second consecutive major.
Americans have won 10 of the last 12 British Opens, including the last four, painting this usually multinational event red, white and blue. But among the Americans, only Jim Furyk and Boo Weekley, at two under, and J.J. Henry, at one under, were in the top 10 after a breezy but relatively benign Friday. The rest of the leaderboard spanned the globe. Spain's Sergio Garcia led the field at six under but was followed closely at four under by South Korea's K.J. Choi, arguably the hottest player in the game.
"Well, we'll see," said Garcia, who played his way into the final group at the Open at Hoylake last year but never threatened Woods despite being just one behind at the start of the day. "I guess it's just a matter of waiting and (we'll) see what happens. But I'd rather be leading than eight shots back, that's for sure, because you don't feel like you have to push your game to the limit all the time."
Garcia, 27, has not won a tournament on any tour in two years. He has gained a reputation as a fragile talent who is so unreliable on the greens that he's gone to a belly-putter. On the plus side, he'll be nowhere near his nemesis Tiger on Saturday. He'll be even more free and clear of Mickelson.
Choi, 37, has won the Memorial and the AT&T National within the last two months. He is nicknamed "Tank," and no matter what happens he just keeps plugging along, apparently impervious to pressure.
Several other players were within striking distance. Canadian Mike Weir, whose career has been in decline since he won the 2003 Masters, continued a recent resurgence with a three-under 68, the best round of the day. Weir is three under overall along with Miguel Angel Jimenez, also from Spain.
Six players were one under, including this year's U.S. Open champion, Angel Cabrera, and Andres Romero, both of Argentina; England's Lee Westwood; Scotland's own Alastair Forsyth; South Africa's Retief Goosen; and Henry, one of the lone U.S. stars at the last Ryder Cup. South Africa's Ernie Els and Ireland's Padraig Harrington were among seven players at even par. Adam Scott and Vijay Singh were in a large contingent at one over.
Once again, Carnoustie proved most dangerous on its final four holes. Harrington plummeted down the leaderboard with a double-bogey 6 on the nasty, 499-yard 18th hole, but he shrugged it off as an occupational hazard.
"It's easy to take 6 down the last, so it's not like — it's not out of the blue," he said. "So, yeah, I'm disappointed, but I don't think it will affect the outcome of my tournament this week."
Woods also finished without a flourish, making bogey on 18 to shoot 74. Seven off the lead, he will need to have a huge weekend.
"I didn't play all that great today, no," said Woods, who hasn't looked sharp for much of this season. "I hit a lot of poor shots but hung in there. I could have easily shot myself right out of the tournament today."
Mickelson, who was ascendant until his final hole at Winged Foot last summer, has struggled mightily since injuring his wrist while preparing for this summer's U.S. Open at Oakmont. He hurt himself the week of the Memorial and withdrew from that tournament before going on a run of poor play. The Players, which Mickelson won convincingly in May, seems like a long time ago.
"I've missed a lot of cuts lately," Mickelson said before taking an early flight out of town. "I missed U.S. Open, Congressional, most likely here. So this is — I don't know, it's — I better get better. I think my next tournament (the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational) doesn't have a cut. That will be nice."
Stewart Cink double-bogeyed the 499-yard, par-4 12th hole, bogeyed the 248-yard, par-3 16th and shot 73. He was at even par. Chris DiMarco, who pushed Woods before finishing second at the British Open at Hoylake a year ago, and who recently reunited with his old caddie, was two over after a one-under 70. The Ryder Cup teammates were two of several Americans needing to make a move Saturday.
Rich Beem, Lucas Glover, Pat Perez, Steve Stricker and Nick Watney were among those with Woods at one over. The Masters champion Zach Johnson and the 2003 British Open winner Ben Curtis were at four over par, making the cut on the number. Former Open champions Tom Lehman and Mark O'Meara also made it at four over.
Woods and the other Americans on the outside looking in may get some help from Mother Nature. The official weather forecast for Saturday calls for strong winds, wind-chill factor, clouds and "persistent rain arriving in the afternoon." That could hurt the leaders, who don't tee off until 2:30 p.m. local time, and it's conceivable that the players with earlier tee times will enjoy an advantage.
"We're going to go to the range and work on it a little bit," Woods said. "I'm going to talk to (coach) Hank (Haney) about it. I know what I was feeling, whether or not what I was feeling and what he was seeing — hopefully they'll coincide and we can fix it."