HOYLAKE - Tiger Woods rolled back the years with some of the scintillating golf that made him a 14-time major winner as he carded a three-under par 69 in Thursday’s opening round at the British Open.
A marvellous run of five birdies in six holes down the stretch leaves him three shots off the clubhouse pace set by Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland. After the worst possible start on his return to the scene of his 2006 triumph at Hoylake, the 12th of his 14 majors, Woods electrified the crowd as they roared him home on a baking hot day at Royal Liverpool. “That was a rough start there, bogeying the first two but I stayed patient,” Woods told BBC Sport.
“I figured it was one of those days where someone would shoot seven under par today and I had to just get in there and use the par fives I had to play. “If you’ve been off a few months it can be tough, compound that with surgery and it’s hard. “I know what it’s like to win here but the golf course is completely different to when I won in 2006, it’s much lusher. “The weather forecast will change things over the next few days though,” added Woods.
The hype and tension surrounding the American and how he would perform, in just his second tournament since he underwent back surgery in a bid to resurrect his career, was telling and the former world number one began with two nervous bogeys to open his round. But the global icon parred the third and then began to hit his stride with his first birdie of the day at the par five fifth to return to one over.
As the crowds following the 38-year-old around the flat par-72 layout grew, Woods began to rise to the occasion, sparked by a winding putt from the edge of the 11th green that saw him shake his fist in celebration. The Woods swagger was back and he clearly enjoyed the occasion acknowledging an adoring public with waves, nods and his unmistakable beaming smile. A pinpoint approach to the 12th was confidently rattled into the cup as he moved back to par for the first time since the opening hole with his second straight birdie.
Then came the short par three 13th where Woods drilled a towering shot from right to left that plonked down eight feet from the pin for another birdie. He had a hiccup at the the challenging 14th, a hole he memorably eagled on his way to victory in 2006 with a 190 yard shot that went straight in. This time however, he found himself at the back of the green facing a difficult chip to a sloping platform. That led to his third bogey of the round.
After slumping over his putter when the ball came up just short and slamming his club down on the bag, Woods promptly birdied 15 and 16 to move, at that time, within two shots off the lead with two holes to play. Another makeable birdie putt at the penultimate hole lipped out as he grimaced with frustration and annoyance at why the ball had refused to drop. Controversy arose at the par five 18th when someone in the crowd disturbed him in mid-swing forcing Woods to abandon his initial attempt to find the green in two. Instead, to the fury of the Florida resident, he then drove a five-wood into a pot bunker at the left of the green that ruined his chances of an eagle, and as it turned out, birdie as well.
Forced to rest one of his legs outside the bunker, he did well just to get out of the sand but he couldn’t get close enough to give the fans in the packed grandstands the birdie finale they were hoping for. “It feels great to be competing again at the elite level and playing at Congressional really helped me. The more rounds I play I’m getting sharper and stronger.” said an evidently satisfied Woods. He is right in the mix heading to the second round and in a position to challenge for that precious 15th major that has eluded him since the 2008 US Open.