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Up at dawn, Woods shows early birdies get the worm

THE BALTIMORE SUN

BETHESDA -- He was 1-under par before the Capital Beltway even started to back up yesterday morning.

Three-under before you poured your second cup of coffee.

Four-under before the second guest on "Regis and Kathie Lee" was introduced.

"Java with Tiger" was a success in the second round of the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club.

Teeing off at 7: 40 a.m., Tiger Woods recovered from his opening-day pratfall to shoot a 67 and climb within sight of the leaders after 36 holes.

Miraculously, Starbucks didn't invest as a corporate sponsor.

Even if Tiger doesn't drink coffee, he played the early part of the round as if he were jacked up to his eyeballs on a tall pitcher of fine Kenyan bean.

And his swarming, noisy gallery, undaunted by the early hour and a rain shower, was a walking advertisement for the java jitters.

Tiger birdied three of the first five holes, four of the first seven and six of the first 15.

Three bogeys on the back nine later in the morning and early in the afternoon -- post-caffeine letdown? -- kept him from registering the day's best score.

Still, let it be recorded that he moved back into contention, and that he did it during the "Barney" hour.

It was a rare sight; rising before dawn is business as usual for thoroughbreds, but golfers seldom are required to get perky so early.

The hour was right for Silver Charm, but not Tiger Woods.

"I got up at 5," he said. "It was pretty early."

Even worse, a light rain was falling when he teed off with Tom Lehman and Steve Jones, and a downpour drenched the group on the second and third holes, not that that scared away many in the huge crowd.

If you're willing to get up at dawn to see Tiger, what's a little wet on the head?

Besides, Tiger gave them what they wanted right away; his approach shots on each of the first three holes left him with short birdie putts, two of which he sank.

Even though it had been only 14 hours since he blew off reporters and left Congressional in a huff after shooting a 74 on Thursday, it was immediately clear that he was more relaxed and comfortable yesterday.

"Those three iron shots [to the green] on the first three holes gave me momentum," he said.

He said he had spent Thursday evening largely by himself, eating a hamburger and french fries and watching television to ++ try to forget about the round.

"I was pretty upset," he said.

Asked to explain why he had blown off reporters, he said he didn't feel compelled to talk if he wasn't in contention, and he wasn't in contention after shooting a 74.

"Why would you want to talk to a guy who is nine shots back?" he said. "When you're that far back, I see no need."

One of his many handlers needs to tell him that he's news regardless of what he shoots; that the other top golfers almost always talk no matter what they shoot; and that he can't win the Masters by 12 strokes, sign $97 million in endorsement contracts and then claim he's just another guy on tour.

Ah, well. He's only 21, he's got lots of time, and the public isn't losing any sleep wondering if Tiger will talk when he shoots 74.

It's his golf that matters, and his golf remained brilliant yesterday after a bright sun and thick humidity replaced the early storm. He said later that he played the same clubs the same ways on the same holes as he did on Thursday, but the results were different.

Another dead-on approach shot to the green on No. 5 gave him another birdie, and a 4-foot putt for birdie on No. 7 left him at 4-under for the day.

"He played awfully well," said Lehman, who shot 70. "The crowd was hooting and hollering all day."

He barely missed a shot until he drove into the rough on No. 13 and rimmed out a par putt, but he followed that with two birdies that had cheers rattling across the grounds of the club. Storm clouds were gathering and there was the sparkly feel of magic in the air.

"I knew [before the round] that I had to shoot a good number and try to get myself back to even par for the tournament, and I did one better than that," Tiger said, "but unfortunately, I had three holes to go."

He did, and the magic in the air gave away to the reality of Open golf. He chipped 12 feet past the hole on No. 16 and missed the par putt, and then the rains came, halting play for 138 minutes. When he started again, he drove into the rough, three-putted for a bogey, and almost cratered entirely when he nearly dunked a ball in the water on No. 18 for the second straight day.

This time, however, his ball stayed "up" on the edge of the green.

"Thank God for the rain," he said.

He tapped in for par some seven hours after teeing off, having landed at 1-over par for 36 holes.

"Are you in it?" he was asked.

L "Yeah, sure," he said. "Anyone who is even 3-over is in it."

He headed out to putt with Fluff, eat burgers, watch TV and do whatever else he does to act like a 21-year-old in between rounds.

Most of the rest of the field still had holes and holes to play. Some guys wouldn't even tee off until dinnertime, for crying out loud.

"Java With Tiger"?

He would take it, thank you.

Pub Date: 6/14/97

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