Sat, Jul 19, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Weather takes its toll at British Open

DIFFICULT DAY Only five players finished under par as wind, rain and the occasional sunshine made playing conditions at Royal St. George's unpredictable

AP , SANDWICH, ENGLAND

South Africa's Ernie Els watches the flight of his ball as he drives off at the fifth tee on the second day of the British Open at Royal St George's in Sandwich, south eastern England, yesterday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

A lost ball by Tiger Woods. A triumphant return for Greg Norman. A stunning struggle for Ernie Els.

And by the way, who is Hennie Otto?

Meet the leader in the first round of a British Open that was as unpredictable as the quirky links on which it was played.

Sunshine, rain and a steady blast of wind off Sandwich Bay produced a slew of surprises, none more than the sight of Otto, a 27-year-old South African, making one long putt after another at Royal St. George's for a 3-under 68.

Otto, who had to qualify for the British Open earlier this week, took a one-stroke lead over Norman and Davis Love III after both of them bogeyed the 18th for a 69.

The only other players to break par were S.K. Ho and Fredrik Jacobson, who played bogey free despite 56kph gusts late in the afternoon.

Otto was thrilled with the first tee time of the day -- 6:30am -- because the forecast was for thunderstorms in the afternoon. He got to Royal St. George's and it was raining.

Go figure.

"You've got to relax and take what the course gives you," Otto said.

Royal St. George's certainly doled it out.

-- Woods hit his opening tee shot in the right rough, and 25 officials scouring a patch of thick grass the size of a kiddie pool never found it. The lost ball led to a triple bogey, and he had to play the final four holes in 2 under just to shoot 73.

-- Trying to become the first player in 20 years to defend his title, Els didn't make a birdie and opened with a 78, his worst round ever at the British Open.

-- Four past major winners were among more than two dozen players who shot in the 80s. The most noteworthy was David Duval, who played well except for two triple bogeys and a quadruple bogey on his way to an 83.

-- Colin Montgomerie got off easy. He tripped on his way to breakfast, injured his hand and withdrew after seven holes.

Equally surprising was Norman, even though he won 10 years ago when the British Open was last held at Royal St. George's.

Still, the Shark hasn't won in five years. That shock of blond hair is tinged with streaks of gray, and a few more wrinkles surround those piercing blue eyes. Norman, 48, has played only two tournaments this year while dealing with a bad back.

Is he back?

"If I get myself in position after the first two rounds, hopefully momentum will start to build," Norman said. "I think 69 is a good start to that momentum. I hope I can keep pushing it forward."

At times, it looked as if he never left, especially on the par-5 fourth. Norman punched a 4-iron that scooted up the severe shelf of the green and trickled down the slope to 16cm for a tap-in eagle.

"You've got to be able to feel comfortable with those shots," he said.

Love, who has never seriously contended in his favorite major, made only one mistake in an otherwise solid round. He played conservatively off the 18th tee with a 3-wood that left him a 4-iron to the green. He missed to the left, and failed to save par.

Tom Watson flirted with the lead for the second straight time in a major. He fell apart at the end, a double bogey-bogey finish for 71.

Also at even-par 71 was Charles Howell III, Fred Couples and Gary Evans, known best for losing his ball on the 17th hole at Muirfield last year.

Woods can relate.

He knew he was in deep rough, and it wasn't long before he realized he was in deep trouble. As he walked up the first fairway, he saw a search party of two dozen people in a desperate attempt to find his ball.

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