Sergio Garcia took a confident step on Friday toward winning an elusive first major by holding off the chasing pack to keep his lead at the halfway stage of the British Open.
The 27-year-old Spaniard came in early with a level par 71 in his second round and watched in comfort as the biggest names in golf tried but failed to match his numbers.
His six-under par total of 136 gave him a two strokes lead over in-form Korean KJ Choi who carded a 69 despite a bogey-five at the last.
A further stroke back came Garcia's veteran compatriot Miguel Angel Jimenez who had a 70 alongside Canada's 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir, whose 68 was the best round of the day.
Former US Open champion Jim Furyk, with a 70, was tied at two-under 140 in the company of colorful American debutant Boo Weekley who had a 72.
Tournament favorite Tiger Woods was out of sorts, heaving his opening tee shot out of bounds and struggling to a 74, his highest score in the Open since the 81 third round he shot in the teeth of a storm at Muirfield five years ago.
The world No. 1 is one over for the tournament, seven shots adrift of Garcia.
The Spaniard, who missed the cut in tearful fashion here the last time the Open came to Carnoustie in 1999, failed to reproduce the sparkling form that brought him a six-under 65 on Thursday.
But after a gem of a chip from deep rough to save par at the first, he looked well in control of his game with a birdie and a bogey going out and the same result coming back in.
"I was hoping for a little bit better but it wasn't a bad round," Garcia said. "It was a bit of a grind today but overall I am still happy with it. I managed not too make too many stupid mistakes and played consistent. But there are still a couple of days to go and we don't want to get ahead of ourselves."
Woods struggled all day off the tee going out in 39 and coming back in 35 with a bogey at the last sending him off to the range to do some work on his swing with coach Hank Haney.
Both Furyk and Vijay Singh made early charges at Garcia's lead, but both struggled over Carnoustie's devilishly hard closing quartet of holes.
Last month's US Open runner-up Furyk got to four under, one shot off the lead at the turn, but three bogeys coming back meant he had to settle for a 70 and a total of two-under par.
Two times major winner Singh, playing in his 19th Open at the age of 44, bounded into contention with three straight birdies from the fifth, but he too finished poorly, hitting out of bounds on the 18th for a double-bogey six that left him one over for the tournament.
The 2002 Open champion Ernie Els battled hard to get himself back in the hunt after a disappointing opening 72, but was left frustrated once again as his putting let him down.
That was more than Phil Mickelson could say as the world No.2 again struggled badly with the special demands of links golf handing in a card of 77 that meant that at six-over he would miss a cut in a major for the second straight time.
It was left to Choi, who has hit a rich vein of form with wins in two of his last three starts on the US PGA Tour, to get closest to matching Garcia's total.
The chunky 36-year-old got to within one stroke of the lead after three birdies in five holes from the 11th, but faltered with a poor drive at the testing 18th which cost him a stroke.
"If I can keep this pace over the weekend who knows what might happen," he said.
Jimenez, who came up a couple of centimeters short of a hole-in-one at the tough 16th, warned the younger generation that at 43 he is far from being a spent force especially on a course as exacting as Carnoustie.
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