Say what you want about Scots being boisterous, they know golfing etiquette. The place got so quiet so all of a sudden that you could hear the distinctive ``clink'' made by the coin clanking off the others already at the bottom of Tiger Woods' pocket.
Woods had just used it to mark his ball on the 13th green at the Old Course. And as he settled over a 6-footer for par little more than two-thirds of the way through his round alongside Colin Montgomerie at the British Open, there was the sense that the entire country was holding its breath. And praying for Woods to miss.
Which, on balance, may be only a slight exaggeration.
``It's so exciting and so lovely to feel the warmth of support from a whole nation,'' Montgomerie said, ``because golf is our national sport here.
``It might not be in your country,'' he added, ``but golf is, in this country.''
If Woods needed reminding that Saturday was going to be a road game, he didn't have to wait long. His tee shot barely landed in the first fairway when the ``clack, clack, clack'' of shoes pounding down the stairs of a fast-emptying grandstand told him the size of his usual huge gallery was swelling by the moment. Every grandstand the rest of the way around the course was packed, and the throng filling each rose to its feet every time Montgomerie strolled past.
``I expected it. It should be that way,'' Woods said. ``He's native born, he's never won a major championship and this is the home of golf.''
There's even more to the story.
Montgomerie grew up at Royal Troon on the other side of this British isle as the son of the club secretary and the most-promising golfer this golf-mad land had seen in a long time. Ever since, everything from his diet to his clothes to his facial expressions to his divorce have been grist for the tabloid mill. And then there's that 0-for-54 streak in the majors, a few punctuated by such spectacular crash-and-burn endings they make ``Braveheart'' look PG-rated by comparison.
And so, young men in the gallery don Montgomerie fright wigs with frighteningly exaggerated blond curls and don't feel the least bit silly. And blue-haired matrons scream ``Go on, Monty!'' with such ardor it's a wonder they don't faint dead away. And then there's the matter of Woods being cast as the perfect villain, the overwhelming overdog, a golfing version of the roundly hated -- at least in Scotland -- English King Edward.
But expecting Woods to turn tail in that hostile environment?
Even Montgomerie knew that was too much to ask.
``He copes with the pressure and the situation around him, with being Tiger Woods, incredibly well,'' Montgomerie said.
Some days, though, it's tougher than ever and the third round was one of those. In what felt like a Ryder Cup atmosphere, Woods three-putted for bogey at No. 2, drove his ball into gorse bushes at the sixth and ninth, and dropped to his knees often enough watching putts curl away from the hole at the last instant. It's a miracle he didn't gore himself with his own putter.
After a handful of the early starters got hold of the Old Course, the stiffest winds of the week rolled in off St. Andrews Bay in the afternoon and restored some of the Old Course's teeth. The greens dried up and drives skidded off the fairways like tabletops, making it tough to judge how far tee shots were running. And always, there was that wall of noise, plus the occasional Saltire, the Scottish flag, snapping in the breeze.
``Obviously,'' Woods said afterward, ``the people should be rooting for him and they were. Then again, they were very gracious. They applauded when I hit a quality shot and sometimes a quality shot would be 30 feet. That's all you can ask for.''
Woods had to make three nervy putts at the three closing holes -- the first two to save pars, the third to set up a tap-in birdie -- to card a 1-under 71. That left him at 204, with a 2-shot lead over Jose Maria Olazabal heading into the final round.
After a 70 that wasn't nearly as steady as it looked on the scorecard, Montgomerie was another stroke back at 207. He spent parts of the day soaking up cheers and striding the fairways with his head held high, and others, red-faced, studying the tips of his shoes,
``It was quite an unbelievable situation to find myself in here,'' Montgomerie said. ``The crowds have been quite fantastic. I'd like to do well for them tomorrow, especially.
``It would be fantastic,'' he added, ``if we could get though this together.''
Woods, on the other hand, still feeling very much alone, wasn't in the mood to look too far ahead.
``Today,'' he said without any hint of emotion, ``was tough.''
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