| Ernie Els kept his British Open hopes alive at Royal St George’s on Friday. (Reuters)
Sandwich: Tiger Woods and Ernie Els, the world’s top two golfers, moved into contention in the British Open second round on Friday as the tugging winds at Royal St George’s eased.
South African Els kept alive his bid for back-to-back titles by firing a three-under-par 68 before Woods reeled off two early birdies to close to within four strokes of the early lead.
“I woke up this morning and I felt I needed to get something going,” Els said. “From tee to green, I was as good as I can get and I was really happy with my finish.
“I played very well at stages today. I’ve just got to get that putter a little bit warmer.”
Els, one of several big names to struggle at a windswept Sandwich on Thursday, mixed four birdies with a bogey to finish at four-over-par 146.
The world number two holed a 12-foot birdie putt at the par-four second and then reached the green in two at the par-five fourth to set up birdie number two.At this point, the winds had strengthened after a relatively calm dawn. The big-hitting South African, who had stumbled to an opening seven-over 78, dropped his first shot of the day when he misjudged his tee shot at the par-three 11th.
But he got back on track with birdies at the 459-yard 13th, where he holed out from six feet, and at the par-four 17th. “I shot 68 in very tough conditions and I’ve got a chance now over the weekend. I just have to keep the momentum going,” Els said.
World No.1 Woods, bidding for his ninth major, parred the opening hole and then hit his approach to just five feet for a birdie-three at the second.
The 2000 champion, who took a triple-bogey seven at the first on Thursday after losing his ball, missed a birdie opportunity from 15 feet at the third but drove the green at the par-five fourth to set up a second birdie.
He missed another birdie chance from similar range at the par-four fifth to stay three behind early leader Davis Love III.
Love, the 1997 US PGA champion, had fired an opening 69 and forged three clear of the field in bright afternoon sunshine with two birdies in an outward nine of 34. Although the 39-year-old American bogeyed the par-four 10th, he hit back with a birdie-two at the par-three 11th to stay two ahead of Frenchman Thomas Levet, who picked up two shots in his first eight holes.
South Korea’s S.K. Ho was a further stroke back in a tie for third with Woods after 15 holes, having mixed an eagle-three at the fourth with a birdie and four bogeys.
Early clubhouse leaders at two-over 144 were Britain’s Alastair Forsyth, after a two-birdie 70, and American Ben Curtis, who returned a second successive 72. “I’m chuffed with that as I played very well,” said the 27-year-old Forsyth.
“I scrambled well when I had to, and that’s something you need to do around here.”
Nick Price was happy the wind had dropped significantly after grafting his way to a one-over-par 72 on Friday.
“The course was set up yesterday really hard,” Price said.“I don’t know if they knew the wind was going to blow as hard but there were a couple of holes out there that were brutal.”
Price shot four bogeys and three birdies, including two in the last three holes, using his renowned course management to good effect just as he did when finishing sixth in the last Open at Sandwich in 1993.
“It is playing much firmer and faster (than in 1993),” he said.“You’re always trying to cut shots into the wind or draw them to stop the ball from releasing so much around the green.”
Although pleased that the wind had relented during the morning, Price was hoping for more gusty conditions in the afternoon to give himself a better chance of winning his fourth major championship.
“I hope it blows a little harder and evens things up otherwise I don’t think I’m going to have much of a chance,” he said.“If we have two more days like this two or three under par will win I would imagine.”