ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (AP) -- Jack Nicklaus stood on the Swilken Bridge and doffed his hat before a cheering crowd Friday to bid farewell to the British Open, much like Arnold Palmer did at the Old Course five years ago.
A few holes behind him, Sergio Garcia, one of the game's rising young stars, surged into contention amid a glittering leaderboard in the second round of the Open.
As Nicklaus was acknowledging the applause and shouts on the 18th hole in what was almost certainly his last Open at age 60, the 20-year-old Garcia was hearing the roars of the crowd as he got to 8 under through 15 holes.
Even before Tiger Woods teed off, moves were being made on a sun-kissed day, with David Duval, Davis Love III and Fred 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.
Woods, a stroke back of Ernie Els to start the day after an opening 67, had an afternoon tee time. Els was on the back nine, still at 6 under.
Gentle winds and perfect scoring conditions helped golf's most hallowed course play even easier than the first day, when the stroke average was 72.9. Among the early finishers Friday, the average was 71.1.
Nicklaus, a two-time winner at St. Andrews, 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.
Garcia, whose heralded Open debut ended disastrously last year, had five birdies and only one bogey through 15 holes as he got to 8 under. Steve Flesch held the early clubhouse lead at 7 under.
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.
Couples was 6 under for the tournament, a shot behind Flesch, who followed his opening 67 with a 70.
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.
"The course was there for the taking," Couples said.
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 had the dubious distinction of playing with Woods down the stretch -- and finished a whopping 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.
"If he beats me by 15 from now, there should be an inquiry," Els said.
There were plenty of inquiries after Els came in under lengthening shadows to join 77 others who matched or broke par under benign conditions.
Most, though, were about Woods, whose seemingly effortless round gave him a streak of 44 straight major championship holes without a bogey.
"That's a little unfair," Els protested. "I just shot 66, talk about my round or just get on the phone" with Woods.
The questions continued.
"Not right now," Els pleaded.
The questions could be expected, after Els emerged once again as the main hope to challenge Woods' attempt to complete his career Grand Slam with a win at St. Andrews.
Not that he didn't have help, however. Favorable conditions and light winds left some pretty big names bunched under par within a few shots of Els and the lurking presence of Woods.
"Has anybody ever heard of him before?" Flesch joked when asked about Woods.
Woods spent much of the first day atop the leaderboard, thanks to his early tee time and a stretch of five birdies in seven holes after making pars on the first eight holes.
He did nothing spectacular, but everything right, serving notice that the 15-8 odds local bookies had on him might be just about right.
"A couple of loose shots," Woods said, adding "We're in a major championship, so anything in the red (under par) is good."
Not quite as good as at Pebble Beach, where Woods was the only one to finish under par in a historic blowout. l
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