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Car-Nifty Delivers The Goods

Carnoustie is still Car-Nasty. Just not as nasty as it was in 1999. Carnoustie is definitely not Car-Nicety when long hitters like Vijay Singh and K.J. Choi need driver and fairway wood to get home on the 499-yard 18th hole Thursday during the first round of the 136th Open Championship.
Actually Carnoustie was more like Car-Nifty when you considered how many interesting and varied story lines developed during a day that greeted the early starters with raw weather and bathed the late finishers in cool but calm conditions.
There was:
  • First round leader Sergio Garcia shooting 65 and acting like he has wielded his new long putter for years.
  • Tiger Woods stalking the lead and winding up with a 2-under par 69 highlighted by a 100-foot birdie putt that found the hole on the difficult par 3 16th. A ho-hum shoulder turn putt, Woods called it. Lo and behold. Woods is gunning for his third straight victory in this event. A final pairing of Tiger and Sergio Sunday would be choice.
  • Rory McIlroy, the precocious Ulster-teen from Northern Ireland, who carded the days only bogey free round, a 68. This is awesome, said the baby-faced McIlroy, 18, who will turn pro in the fall. McIlroy once shot a 61 at Northern Irelands Royal Portrush, one of the great and difficult golf courses in the world. His dream, he said, is to win the Open Championship this week. He said he also wants to play on the PGA TOUR one day. Thats where all the good players are, he said. One thing McIlroy will not become this week is the youngest Open Championship winner. Young Tom Morris still holds that record. He was 17 years, five months and three days when he won at Prestwick way back in 1868.
  • More news on the drugs and golf front: Wednesday Gary Player touched off a firestorm of controversy and a predictable tabloid frenzy when he said he knew of players using performance-enhancing drugs. In fact, Player said, he had talked to top players who had told him of their drug use. He never, however, named names.
    Thursday I received this response from the PGA TOUR when I requested a reaction from Ponte Vedra Beach to Players allegations:
    Any conversations Gary Player had with other players about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in golf were private conversations to which the PGA TOUR was not privy, came the reply from TOUR spokesman Bob Combs in a prepared statement E-mailed to me. We dont know the identity of any individuals involved in those conversations, nor what was discussed, so we cant comment.
    However, it is important to note, as Commissioner Tim Finchem reiterated in recent weeks, that the PGA TOUR is formulating an anti-doping policy that is comprehensive and supported by other major golf organizations globally.
  • The play of Darren Clarke, who navigated the last 12 holes in 3-under, salvaged a 72 and showed more signs of re-discovering a golf game that has been a second priority in the wake of the loss of his wife to cancer last year.
  • The play of Japans little-known Achi Sato, who birdied the third, fourth, fifth and sixth holes before taking a header off the leaderboard. Sato finished with a 71.
  • John Daly, who won the Open Championship in 1995, outdoing Sato. When Daly holed his second shot for eagle on the par 4 11th, he stood at 5-under and alone atop the leaderboard. He then proceeded to double bogey two of the next three holes and close with bogeys on three of the last four to finish with a bitterly-disappointing and bloated 74.
  • Phil Mickelson, the second-ranked player in the world, playing beautifully everywhere but on the greens. His 71 could have been better. But he appeared to have complete control of his golf ball during a round that looked pain free. Mickelson, who missed the cut at the U.S. Open last month thanks mainly to a wrist injury, let his left hand come off the club during his second shot from the rough on the brutal 18th. But Carnoustie, as it played Thursday, agrees with him.
  • Irishman Paul McGinley, 40 and mired in mediocrity much of this year, getting it to 6-under through 14 holes and scrapping home nicely for his 67, which left him alone in second behind Garcia. No European has won the Open Championship since Paul Lawrie broke through at Carnoustie eighth years ago. Its just, McGinley said, a matter of time.
  • Once again the name of K.J. Choi among the leaders. Choi already has won tournaments hosted by Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods this year. Capturing one hosted by the R&A would instantly catapult him to the head of the class of candidates for PGA TOUR Player of the Year.
  • The names of these players lurking within four shots of Garcia: Michael Campbell (-3), Angel Cabrera (-3), Boo Weekley (-3), Stewart Cink (-2) and Padraig Harrington (-2).
    Dont take your eyes off of any of them. And dont count on Carnoustie remaining Car-Nifty. Yes, the fairways are wider than in 1999 and the rough is shorter. But the weather is always a threat. And it can get very, very Nasty.

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