Woods one round away from Grand Slam

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland - OK, Tiger Woods is not perfect.

He's no Jean Van de Velde, either.

A comical collapse like the Frenchman endured last year at Carnoustie might be the only way to keep Woods' name off the silver claret jug - and out of the record books as the youngest player to complete golf's Grand Slam.

Woods proved he was human Saturday at the British Open, making his first bogey in 64 holes at a major. Small consolation to David Duval, Ernie Els and every other pretender trapped between Woods and his march toward history.

''I've had big leads before and I've been able to succeed,'' Woods said. ''But we'll see.''

See what?

Another double-digit margin of victory? Another record score on a storied course by the sea?

Woods played conservatively and still managed to double his lead at St. Andrews with a 5-under 67. He finished the three rounds at 200, six strokes ahead of Duval and Thomas Bjorn.

''There's no doubt we're playing for second place,'' Bjorn said. ''It certainly looks like somebody out there is playing golf on a different planet from the rest of us.''

Unless the 24-year-old Woods suffers the greatest collapse in the history of golf's oldest championship, he will become only the fifth player to win all four majors. No one has ever blown a third-round lead as large as six strokes in the British Open.

Last year at Carnoustie, Van de Velde led by five going into the last day - and by three on the final hole before making triple bogey and losing in a playoff.

''I know what it takes to play in a final round of any tournament,'' said Woods, who is 18-2 worldwide when he has at least a share of the 54-hole lead. ''You can't let yourself look ahead to the final outcome, because if you don't take care of the present, the final outcome may not be what you want.''

The outcome Woods seeks at the home of golf is his third major in the last four.

Also at stake is a chance to break Nick Faldo's scoring records. He had an 18-under 270 in 1990, the lowest score at St. Andrews, and the most under par in Open history.

''I don't like it a bit,'' Faldo said about losing the record. ''I'll just have to go and play in Tiger-less tournaments.''

Despite a lower back sprain that causes him to stand up when he eats at restaurants, Duval had a bogey-free 66 and set up a final-round pairing between No. 1 and No. 2.

Of course, the margin in the world ranking is about as vast as what Duval faces Sunday.

''Let's be realistic. There hasn't been a rivalry,'' Duval said.

Whatever talk of any rival to Woods was ended by his record 15-stroke victory last month in the U.S. Open.

Once again, Woods is turning a major championship into a Senior Tour event. Those are usually decided after 54 holes, too.

The U.S. and British Opens have not been a mirror image. For one thing, it's been warm and sunny on the edge of the North Sea in Scotland, while Pebble Beach was cool and foggy. For another, at least this time Woods' opponents are putting up a fight.

Not that it's mattered.

Nine players started the final round within five strokes of Woods. All but Sergio Garcia shot par or better, yet all of them lost ground.

David Toms, playing in the final pairing with Woods, got to within one stroke on the second hole when Woods three-putted from 55 feet and Toms rolled in a 5-footer for birdie. It was Woods' first bogey in a major since the 10th hole of the third round in the U.S. Open.

But Woods had an answer for everything and everybody. He got the stroke back on the next hole with a 9-iron to 10 feet for birdie, and Toms fell back.

He had a 71 and was at 207, along with Darren Clarke (68) and Loren Roberts (70).

Next came Els, who made a wretched bogey on the opening hole by chunking a wedge so badly he didn't even reach the Swilken Burn. But the Big Easy stormed back with a barrage of birdies and got to within one stroke with a 4-foot birdie on the 10th.

As Els walked off one side of the double green, Woods approached the other side where he had stuffed a 6-iron to 1 feet.

He saw the charges coming. He knew what he had to do.

''You know you're going to have to make some birdies,'' Woods said. ''That's part of playing this golf course, especially under these conditions. All I can ask of myself is to give myself chances. I was able to do that most of the day.''

Woods followed his birdie on No. 8 with a 15-foot birdie on No. 9, then a beautifully played chip on the 12th hole that banged into the steep bank, gently climbed the slope and stopped within a foot of the hole.

It was all part of a stretch in which Woods birdied five of seven holes.

''When you watch top performers at their best ... it's just awesome to watch,'' said Toms, who played with Woods for the first time.

Els lost hope when his drive on No. 12 went into a prickly gorse bush. He made double bogey to drop back, closed with six pars and left the Old Course without comment after a 70 that left him at 208, along with Dennis Paulson (69), Tom Lehman (70) and Steve Flesch (71).

Flesch also got it to 10 under before a double bogey on No. 13 when he hit into a pot bunker.

That's one place Woods has yet to find. He came perilously close on No. 17 when he slightly pulled a 7-iron that landed 2 feet above the Road Hole bunker.

Woods three-putted for his second bogey of the day. Just like before, he answered with a birdie.

Duval made his run early, going out in 32 to get into the picture, and saved it with a rare break. His drive on the 18th appeared to be going out of bounds to the right before it took a fortuitous hop to remain in play. Instead of a double bogey, he got birdie.

''It was nice to see that. A couple of months ago, I'm pretty sure that would have gone out of bounds,'' said Duval, who hasn't won in 16 months.

It will be only the third time in their careers they have played together as a twosome, the first time as the final pairing in the final round. The last time they played together, in the Byron Nelson Classic, Woods had a 63 and Duval a 70.

''That's what people want to see,'' Woods said. ''I want to see it, too. We're going to give it everything we have to beat one another.''

In Woods' 24 victories around the world, 17 players have finished runner-up.

Until now, Duval has not been on that list.

''It will be a circus. It will be exciting. It will be a slugfest,'' Duval said. ''If I could swing the golf club like I have, and putt like I did the last few days, I could show him I have a game going now, too.''

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