GULLANE, Scotland, July 20 (UPI) -- Taking advantage of soft conditions, Ernie Els and Colin Montgomerie both approached scoring records Friday at the British Open, but Tiger Woods strengthened his chance for an unprecedented Grand Slam on a rainy day at Muirfield Golf Links.
While Els threatened the nine-hole Open scoring mark and Montgomerie challenged the best round in tournament history, Woods stayed in contention with a 3-under-par 68 that put him at 4-under 138.
"I feel very comfortable," said Woods, golf's incomparable star who lipped out three birdie putts Thursday. "That's what I'm going to take away from the first two days."
Shooting for his third career major title, Els went out in 7-under 29, missing Dennis Durnian's 19-year-old nine-hole scoring record by just a stroke. "The first nine was, obviously, quite amazing, really," said Els, the third-ranked player in the world behind Woods and Phil Mickelson.
Although he had a pair of bogeys on the back nine and had to scramble for par at the 18th, the two-time U.S. Open winner from South Africa shot a 5-under 66 for a 36-hole total of 7-under 135. "I've got an opportunity to achieve one of my goals," said Els, who was second at the British Open in 1996 and 2000.
A native of Scotland, Montgomerie teed off under rainy morning conditions, but that couldn't put a damper on his 64, which came within a stroke of the best round in the 131-year history of the Open. One of the best players in European PGA Tour history, "Monty" did match the lowest score over the first two rounds of the 15 Opens held at Muirfield and jumped into contention for his first major title by reaching 4-under 138.
"I want to keep this momentum going," said Montgomerie, who has won 26 titles in Europe but is 0-for-44 in majors, placing second three times. "I know I can win."
Robbins, Bader share LPGA lead
VIENNA, Ohio, July 20 (UPI) -- Kelly Robbins tied the course record with an 8-under-par 64 Friday to grab a share of the lead with Beth Bader after a marathon first round of the Giant Eagle LPGA Classic.
Looking to end a victory drought of more than 3 ½ years, Robbins made two eagles, six birdies and two bogeys before thunderstorms and threatening weather delayed play for 2 hours, 16 minutes.
Robbins, who has nine wins in an 11-year career, is tied with Bader, who is winless in her second year on the LPGA Tour. But Bader enjoyed the best round of her brief career, burning Squaw Creek for 10 birdies and two bogeys--all while playing the four par-5s at 1-over.
Dorothy Delasin started her quest for an historic "three-peat" with a 3-under 69. She was among the last groups to complete play around 9 p.m. EDT. The 21-year-old Californian is trying to become the eighth player in LPGA Tour history to post three consecutive wins at the same event. The list includes Britain's Laura Davies, who won the Standard Register PING each year from 1994-97; Sweden's Annika Sorenstam; and Australia's Karrie Webb.
Armstrong wins again, extends lead
PLATEAU DE BEILLE, France, July 20 (UPI) -- Lance Armstrong of the United States again gained inspiration as he passed the memorial of a former teammate.
Armstrong captured his second straight leg of the 89th Tour de France on Friday, winning the mountainous 12th stage from Lannemezan to Plateau de Beille and extending his overall lead.
The three-time defending champion at the world's most famous cycling race, Armstrong captured his 14th career stage win. He attacked on the final ascent to Plateau de Beille and his closest rivals for the yellow jersey--Spain's Joseba Beloki and Igor Gonzalez Galdeano--were unable to stay with theTexan's pace.
Armstrong opened a two-minute, 28-second advantage over Beloki and is 3:19 ahead of Gonzalez Galdeano.
Thursday marked the seventh anniversary of the death of Casartelli. The Italian rider perished after a fall on the descent of the Col de Portet d'Aspet during the 1995 Tour. He was riding on Armstrong's Motorola team.
Martz signs five-year contract with Rams
ST. LOUIS, July 20 (UPI) -- The St. Louis Rams on Friday signed coach Mike Martz to a five-year contract running through the 2006 season, replacing his deal which had two years left to run.
Martz originally signed a four-year contract worth $4.4 million when he replaced Dick Vermeil as Rams coach in 2000. The new deal will probably net Martz worth more than $3 million annually.
Martz's deal is commensurate to that of Vermeil, who came out of retirement for a second time and signed a three-year, $10 million contract with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2001.
After serving as offensive coordinator under Vermeil in St. Louis' Super Bowl championship season in 1999, Martz took over as coach and compiled a 26-10 record over the next two years. However, the Rams were eliminated in the wild card round in 2001 and suffered a 20-17 loss to New England in Super Bowl XXXVI last January.
Martz's offense has led the NFL in each of the last three seasons, averaging 33 points and 420 yards per game. During that span, the Rams have broken 16 NFL records and 75 team records, won two NFC championships and beat Tennessee in Super Bowl XXIV.
Carlos Moya reaches semifinals
UMAG, Croatia, July 20 (UPI) -- Defending champion Carlos Moya, the second seed from Spain, rallied past compatriot Fernando Vicente, the fifth seed, 3-6, 6-1, 6-0, on Friday to advance to the semifinals of the $381,000 Croatia Open.
The 1998 French Open champion, Moya won his eighth straight match, including a title in Bastad last week. Moya has lost just two sets during that span. The 25-year-old Moya is trying to capture his third Croatia Open title, having won his first trophy in 1996.
In an all-Croatian quarterfinal matchup, wild card Zeljko Krajan upset fourth seed Ivan Ljubicic, 7-6 (7-2), 7-5. Krajan, 23, is looking to became the first home-grown champion in 12 years. Goran Prpic defeated Goran Ivansevic in the all-Croatian final in 1990.
NFL confirms Carter suspension
METAIRIE, La., July 20 (UPI) -- The NFL confirmed Friday that four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Dale Carter of the New Orleans Saints has been suspended indefinitely for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
NFL rules prohibit league or team officials from commenting on the specifics of such suspensions, but ESPN reported that the violation was for alcohol and not for a banned substance.
Carter previously was suspended for the entire 2000 season for violating the policy.
Under terms of the program, players who violate the substance abuse policy following a one-year ban are suspended indefinitely.
Carter's suspension began immediately and he is prohibited from participating in any team activities. Despite Carter's status as a multiple offender of the substance abuse policy, the Saints signed him to a seven-year, $26.9 million contract in March
Dolphins waive one DE, acquire another
MIAMI, July 20 (UPI) -- The Miami Dolphins on Friday waived defensive tackle/end Daryl Gardener after acquiring defensive end Jay Williams from the Carolina Panthers for a fourth-round pick in 2003 and reserve defensive end Al Wallace.
Gardener, 29, missed 15 games over the last two seasons after undergoing two back surgeries and the Dolphins planned to move him to right end after signing free agent defensive tackle Larry Chester. But after restructuring his contract to give the Dolphins salary cap relief, Gardener angered team officials when he missed some offseason workouts.
The Dolphins signed free agent defensive end Rob Burnett, a starter with the Cleveland-Baltimore franchise since 1990, last month as insurance for Gardener's back problems. When they made another move for a defensive end with the acquisition of Williams, it became clear that Gardener would be released.
The 6-6, 317-pound Gardener was the team's best run-stuffing defensive tackle and a starter since his rookie year in 1996.
With Gardener in the middle last season, the Dolphins allowed an average of 99 yards on 25 carries in the first eight games, going 6-2. Without Gardener, the Dolphins yielded an average of 33 carries for 134 yards in the last nine games. That included four games when they allowed more than 150 yards and 226 yards in a playoff loss to Baltimore.
A veteran of seven NFL seasons, the 31-year-old Williams signed with the Panthers as an unrestricted free agent in 2000 after playing for the St. Louis Rams' Super Bowl XXXIV championship team. In his first season with Carolina, Williams led the team with a career-high six sacks. Last season, he recorded a career-high 54 tackles.
Gow, Micheel tied for lead
ENDICOTT, N.Y., July 20 (UPI) -- Paul Gow shot a 6-under-par 66 on Friday and was tied for the lead with Shaun Micheel when second-round play at the B.C. Open was suspended due to darkness.
The 31-year-old Gow was able to get in his entire round in before play was halted at 8:17 p.m. EDT. Micheel completed 15 holes when play was suspended.
Mother Nature wreaked havoc for much of the day as heavy rains forced a four-hour delay during the middle of the round.
Gow made the best of the conditions at the En-Joie Golf Club, managing a round that included an eagle, six birdies and a double-bogey to move to 11-under 133 for the tournament.
Micheel was among a bevvy of players who failed to complete their rounds. When play was called, 65 golfers were on the course. They will return Saturday morning before the cut is established.
Elliott wins pole for New England 300
LOUDON, N.H., July 20 (UPI) -- Bill Elliott continued his recent surge Friday by capturing the pole for Sunday's NASCAR Winston Cup New England 300.
Driving a Dodge Intrepid, Elliott, known as "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville" in his heyday, clocked 131.469 miles per hour around the 1.058-mile New Hampshire Speedway for his third pole of the season and 54th career. He also started up front for the MBNA 500 in March and the Samsung Radio/Shack 500 in April.
Elliott, a resident of Dawsonville, Ga., is one of the more popular drivers on the Winston Cup circuit. Lately, he also has been one of the more consistent.
This will be his seventh start in the top five in his last eight races. He has finished in the top 10 five times in his last eight events, climbing to eighth in the Winston Cup standings.
Elliott is one of three drivers in the top 10 in the standings who has yet to win this year. He is 253 points behind overall leader Sterling Marlin, who qualified 18th.
Elliott will be joined on the front row by Mike Skinner, who clocked 131.175 mph in a Chevrolet Monte Carlo.
Rusty Wallace, another driver in the top 10 in the standings without a win, will start third in a Ford. He won the inaugural race here in 1993 and set the qualifying mark two years ago. Wallace is sixth in the standings, 171 points behind Marlin.
Rams sign Heisman Trophy winner
ST. LOUIS, July 20 (UPI) -- The St. Louis Rams on Friday signed Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Eric Crouch to a three-year contract.
A third-round pick and the 95th overall selection in the 2002 draft, Crouch will line up as a wide receiver in Mike Martz's offense after a record-setting college career at Nebraska.
A quick runner with instant acceleration and outstanding change of direction, Crouch holds the NCAA record for most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 59 and the Big 12 record for most rushing yards by a quarterback with 3,434.
One of three players in NCAA Division I-A history to rush for more than 3,000 yards and throw for more than 4,000 yards in a career, Crouch won the Heisman Trophy as well as the Walter Camp Player of the Year and Davey O'Brien quarterback award last season.