GULLANE, Scotland, AP
Never has a British Open seemed so wide open. Never before has one player seemed so ready to win.
With a leaderboard so crowded even Tiger Woods had trouble getting his name in, the British Open goes into the weekend looking like it is anyone’s tournament.
At least that’s the way it would look if Woods wasn’t lurking just two shots back. Because he is, all bets are off.
“Golf is a four day sport,” co-leader Shigeki Maruyama said, “so in the end I’m sure he’ll be on top of me.”
Five players from four different continents share the lead after two rounds of an Open that is truly living up to its name.
Eleven others are within two shots of the lead.
One of those is Woods, who is chasing the third leg of an historic grand slam. And that might make all the other names irrelevant
“Anytime you are near the lead in a major championship, you must be happy,” Woods said after shooting a nearly mistake-free 68 on Friday.
If that’s true, there are a lot of happy players at Muirfield.
Topping the list is an eclectic group of players who managed to find different ways to get to 6-under par midway through the season’s third major championship.
Ernie Els got there by shooting a 29 on the front nine before fading coming in and finishing with a 66. Maruyama got there while playing with Woods and matching his 68.
They were joined by Duffy Waldorf, Padraig Harrington and Bob Tway on top of the most crowded leaderboard in a major since six players shared the second round lead in the U.S. Open.
“When the weather is like this it makes it a lot easier to get scores bunched,” Tway said. “If you get some wind blowing you may see scores coming more apart.”
Some wind would be fine with Woods, who prides himself on playing better when the conditions get tougher. He thought the wind and rain would come on Friday but it only rained, making the Muirfield links actually play easier.
“If we ever get a day where it blows here…” Woods said. “If it does blow it will be interesting.”
It’s already interesting, but mainly because there are so many players from so many places posting so many good scores.
None of the 83 players left after the cut is more than 2 over, and 67 of them are within seven shots of the lead. That figure is significant only because David Duval was seven shots out after two rounds last year and ended up winning by three shots.
That’s exactly where Duval is this time, but with such a crowd in front of him it’s not likely he will be able to leapfrog the field like he did at St. Annes last year.
The same goes for Phil Mickelson, although he didn’t count himself out after just sneaking in under the cut after a fat second round 76.
“I’m not about to give up with two rounds to go,” Mickelson said.
For Woods, giving up is never an option. Even though he has not made putts like he expects to do, he is just two shots back and is on everyone’s mind.
“If Tiger gets really hot, he might do what I did today, who knows,” Els said.
For a time Friday it looked like Els might take control of the tournament all by himself. He birdied seven of the nine holes on the front nine before a bogey on the 11th hole seemed to sap his momentum.
Els would bogey two more holes to come back to the field, salvaging his share of the lead only after making par from the fairway bunker on 18.
“It’s quite difficult, you know, you play the front nine the way I did and you feel if you keep that going you could shoot a 54,” Els said. “That in itself is a scary thought. I didn’t quite play the same level on the back nine.”
Also playing himself into contention was Colin Montgomerie, who thrilled the home crowd by shooting the low round of the tournament, a 64, to move to within two shots of the leaders.
It was enough to get a rare smile out of Montgomerie, who a day earlier had sulked off the course after opening with a 74.
“I want to keep this momentum going. I know I can win. I’ve never been frightened of winning here,” Montgomerie said. “I’ve just got to use that psychology, if you like, in a positive way over the weekend.”