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Even playing partner Johan Edfors enjoyed Sergio Garcia's play on Friday. (Warren Little/Getty Images)
Even playing partner Johan Edfors enjoyed Sergio Garcia's play on Friday. (Warren Little/Getty Images)

Friday provides promise for Garcia, problems for Woods

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Sergio Garcia remained cool and consistency on a tough Friday at Carnoustie, carding an even-par 71 to carry a two-shot lead into the weekend. Tiger Woods struggled in his 74, and is seven shots back in his quest for an Open three-peat.

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (AP) -- The Open Championship was buzzing, and Sergio Garcia could not ignore it. Even if it wasn't for him.

Before he holed a testy par putt on the 18th green at Carnoustie to protect his position atop the leaderboard, Garcia was startled by the strange sound coming from Tiger Woods' direction on the first tee Friday.

Cheers were replaced by groans and gasps at the sight of the two-time defending champion hitting perhaps his worst opening shot in any round of any major. It was a duck-hook with an iron that sailed over the gallery, bounced along the turf and disappeared into Barry Burn, the winding stream that usually doesn't come into play until the final hole, not the first one.

Garcia turned to see what the fuss was about, not able to see where the ball wound up.

"I didn't know he went into the burn," Garcia said.

By the end of another demanding round on golf's toughest links course, Woods was lucky that Garcia was not out of his sights.

Garcia took another step toward validating his promise, grinding his way through chilly breezes with birdies on both par 5s and only a couple of mistakes for an even-par 71 that gave him a two-shot lead over K.J. Choi.

He has contended for majors since he was a teenager, but the 27-year-old Spaniard looks as though he might finally have figured them out. Garcia wasn't at his best in the second round, but he was good enough.

"I was hoping for a little better than what I did," said Garcia, who was at 6-under 136. "But that was not a bad round. Every time you shoot on a difficult course ... an under-par or even-par round, you know you're not too far away."

Choi, perhaps the hottest player in golf with victories at two big tournaments in the last two months, was bearing down on Garcia with a string of birdies along the back nine until a bogey on the final hole that was a foot away from being worse. His tee shot narrowly avoided the burn left of the 18th fairway, forcing Choi to stand on the stone steps and punch back to the fairway.

"You've just got to play that hole as a par 5," Choi said after a 69. "Even if you get a bogey, just consider it a good par."

They will be in the final group Saturday of a major that is starting to take shape.

Garcia, who has twice played in the final group with Woods in a major and lost a spirited duel to him at Medinah in the 1999 PGA Championship, also started his second round in trouble. But after a shaky approach that he described as a shank, he hit a daring chip out of deep rough, skirting around trouble and stopping within a few feet of the hole to save par. He was on his way.

"It kept me in the right mood," Garcia said.

The best round of the day belonged to former Masters champion Mike Weir of Canada, a 68 that put him at 3-under 139 along with Miguel Angel Jimenez, who had a 70. Another shot behind was former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk (70) and Boo Weekley, whose backwoods charm is starting to captivate Britain as much as his ball-striking.

Missing from the mix is Phil Mickelson, who missed the cut for the second straight time in a major.

Lefty figured he needed a par on the final hole to have any chance, then promptly hit a power fade into Barry Burn for double bogey and a 77. It was a setback for the three-time major champion, who lost in a playoff last week at the Barclays Scottish Open.

"I thought I was playing better than this," Mickelson said.

Also leaving early was Colin Montgomerie, whose victory two weeks ago in Ireland renewed hopes that a major was still in his future. Paul Lawrie, the shock winner at Carnoustie in 1999, took double bogey on the final hole and missed the cut by one.

Garcia has never had the lead going into the weekend at a major, and his work is far from done. Eighteen players were within six shots of the lead, five of them major champions.

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"I'd rather be leading than being eight shots back, that's for sure," Garcia said. "You don't feel like you have to push your game to the limit all the time. So I'm pretty happy the way I'm standing right now."

Woods was seven shots back after a 74, ending his streak of nine consecutive rounds under par at the Open Championship. And he was lucky he didn't face a larger deficit with two rounds remaining as he tries to become the first player in 51 years to win three straight times.

Two shots came within inches of going into those perilous pot bunkers. He turned away in disgust as his approach on the 10th hole headed for the burn, only to rattle through a small cluster of trees and land safely in the middle of them.

"That was certainly interesting," Woods said. "One over par for the tournament, but still not out of it."

It was his worst start since hitting into the right rough on the first hole at Royal St. George's in 2003, a ball that was never found. That was only about 10 yards off line. This shot looked like it belonged on the municipal course at Monifieth up the road.

Rarer than the shot was the collection of thoughts in Woods' head during his swing.

"It was such a poor shot because the commitment wasn't there," he said. "If I hit a low one like I've been practicing on the range for the first tee, I can run the ball in the right bunker."

That made him think of hitting the ball higher, but "I wasn't really committed to throw the ball up in the air."

The result was a double bogey, and a battle to stay in the game. He saved par from a bunker on the ninth, from the trees by the burn on No. 10, and with an approach while standing upright on the edge of a fairway bunker on the 11th.

"I could have easily shot myself out of the tournament today," Woods said. "But I kept myself right in there."

Garcia could have put some distance between his challengers, although he still looked very much in control. He didn't have as many birdie chances as Thursday, when he opened with a 65, but he picked his spots.

"I'm not going to lie. I was a little bit nervous at the beginning because you want to do well like I had yesterday," Garcia said.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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