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Woods vaults into lead

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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Tiger Woods threatened to break away in the British Open today, holing birdies on three of the first five holes to move to the top of the leaderboard.

Woods, trying to complete a career Grand Slam at age 24, waited until midafternoon to tee off on the Old Course, then wasted little time in establishing his dominance in a tournament where he had yet to make a bogey.

He birdied the first hole with a 12-foot putt, tapped in from a foot on the par-4 fourth hole for a second birdie and tapped in again after nearly holing an eagle putt on the par-5 fifth.

Woods, after an opening 67 left him a shot off the lead, was three shots behind the leaders when he finally teed off under perfect scoring conditions on the Scottish coast along the North Sea.

He was 8-under for the tournament through five holes, tied with clubhouse leader David Toms, who shot 67 and was at 136.

Woods teed off moments after Jack Nicklaus stood on the Swilken Bridge to bid a probable farewell to the Open at St. Andrews after a second-round 73 meant he would miss the cut. Just like the U.S. Open, it seemed to mark the passing of one golfing era to another.

"St. Andrews always has a special place in my heart," the 60-year-old Nicklaus said after stopping on the bridge on 18 to doff his cap and acknowledge the outpouring from the crowd.

Woods, who needs only the British Open to complete his collection of major titles, had problems only at No. 5, and that was because of a backup of play that left some players on the hole for nearly an hour.

With a late tee time, Woods knew what most of his top competitors had done on the sun-kissed day. The early players averaged under par on the Old Course.

Five holes into his second round, he was already tied with Toms. Just behind Toms were Sergio Garcia and Steve Flesch at 137, followed by Fred Couples and Ernie Els at 138.

As Nicklaus was getting cheers, the 20-year-old Garcia was hearing the roars of the crowd as he got to 8 under, only to bogey the Road Hole at No. 17.

"I felt like I left two or three out there," Garcia said. "I hope it's good enough to be close."

Long before Woods teed off, moves were being made, with David Duval, Davis Love III and Couples all moving onto the leaderboard. There was also Jean Van de Velde, whose infamous collapse in the Open last year will forever be a part of golf lore.

Love had the best early round of the day, a 66 that put him tied with Van de Velde, three behind Toms and Woods. Another shot back was Duval, after a second straight 70.

Gentle winds helped golf's most hallowed course play even easier than the first day, when the stroke average was 72.9. Among the early finishers today , the average was 71.8.

Nicklaus, a three-time British Open champion, wasn't going to be among the weekend players after following an opening 77 with a 72. He missed a short birdie putt on the 18th, then walked arm-in-arm off the green with son, Steve, his caddie. He blew a few kisses to the crowd and walked up the steps off of 18 to even more applause.

A few moments earlier, Nicklaus had paused on the Swilken Bridge that crosses the water on the 18th fairway. He took off his hat and waved it to the crowd, then motioned for his son to join him on the bridge.

Couples, winless in two years and not a factor in recent major championships, made four birdies on the front side and appeared headed for the early lead in the clubhouse until his ball landed in a gaping greenside bunker on No. 16 and he made double bogey.

Van de Velde, meanwhile, shot a 68 and was 5-under heading into the final two rounds as he sought to atone for the triple bogey on the final hole at Carnoustie last year that cost him the Open.

With barely a hint of breeze, and sunshine that made it feel more like Southern California than the edge of the North Sea, players continued their assault at the home of golf, where even 112 deep bunkers didn't disrupt scoring.

Before hitting a shot Thursday, Els knew he had a tough task ahead. "You see Tiger 5-under, and you haven't even started the round, you know you got your work cut out," Els said.

Els knew that feeling well. He was beaten by Woods in a playoff earlier this year and finished second to him in the Memorial and U.S. Open. At Pebble Beach, he played with Woods down the stretch — and ended 15 shots back.

But for one sunny day at St. Andrews, at least, Els had the upper hand. A birdie on the treacherous Road Hole was his eighth of the day, and his 6-under 66 gave him a one-stroke lead over Woods and Steve Flesch after the first round.