Woods joins in the fun at Hoylake
Published 17/07/2014 | 14:08
Low scoring dominated the first day of the 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool - with even a rusty Tiger Woods getting in on the act.
Perfect conditions - sun, very little wind and a receptive Hoylake links - meant players were able to take full advantage but the former world number one took some time to get going.
That was not the case for Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, who blazed a trail to the top of the leaderboard at six under with two holes to play.
Woods bogeyed his first two holes - he began with a dropped shot when he won his third and last Claret Jug on this course in 2006 - but clawed things back with an impressive back nine.
The 14-time major winner, playing only his second event since a back operation in March, reached the turn in at one over after holing a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-five fifth but then proceeded to card five birdies in six holes.
It was a run spoiled only by a bogey at the 454-yard 14th after finding the left rough off the tee, eliciting a swear word for which Woods has become all too famous for in recent years.
A 40-foot birdie attempt at the 17th brushed the edge of the hole and, after encountering one or two disturbances from a phalanx of photographers as he attempted to reach the par-five 18th with his second, he closed out with a 69 after escaping with par from a greenside bunker.
Considering his two previous rounds were a 74 and 75 as he missed the cut at the Quicken Loans National last month, Woods will have been pleased with his day's work.
He maintained his policy of avoiding driver on every tee except the 577-yard 16th - the hole where he used the club as he famously won the Claret Jug by getting it out of the bag just once in 2006.
The American stated he had come here to win and having got a start there will be fewer people doubting that assertion now.
"I knew I could do it. That's why I was telling you guys it was so important for me to play at Congressional," he said.
"I'm getting stronger, I'm getting faster, I'm getting more explosive.
"The ball is starting to travel again and those are all positive things.
"At Congressional I made some terrible mistakes mentally. My decisions weren't very crisp and I wasn't decisive enough.
"Today was totally different and consequently I shot a better score."
McIlroy began as one of the favourites and he lived up to that billing with some brilliant approach play giving him plenty of opportunities to go low.
He almost holed his mid iron at the second and that set the tone as he picked up two more strokes to reach the turn at three under.
Birdies followed at two of the par fives - the 10th and 16th - and the 447-yard 12th to edge one stroke ahead of Italian Matteo Manassero.
A cluster of players posted four-under 68s, including Sergio Garcia, Jim Furyk, American Brooks Koepka and Italian brothers Edoardo and Francesco Molinari, with Woods in an even bigger group a further stroke back.
McIlroy did not pick up any shots over his closing two holes but crucially did not drop any either after coming up short of the 17th green and finding a greenside bunker at the last but still signed for six-under 66 to post the new clubhouse lead.
He knows, as does everyone else, that the real test comes on Friday as he seeks to cure a second-day syndrome which has seen his PGA Tour-leading first-round scoring average of just under 68 consumed by a second-round average almost five shots worse.
"Any time you shoot 66 at the Open Championship, you're going to be pleased," he said.
"We had perfect scoring conditions out there this morning. There wasn't much wind early on and there were plenty of opportunities to make birdies and I was able to take a few of them.
"It's another great start and, yeah, looking forward to getting back out there tomorrow.
"Whenever I go out and play on Thursdays there's not really many expectations. You're going out there and you're trying to find a rhythm and you're just trying to play your way into the round.
"When you go back out on Friday after a good score you know what you can do, so you're going out with some expectations compared to Thursday.
"I think I've just got to approach it like that, and start off trying to hit solid shots the first few holes and play my way into the round, just like I did today."
Of the big-name players in the afternoon groups, world number one Adam Scott birdied the fourth and eagled the par-five fifth to move to three under while in the group behind England's Lee Westwood almost holed his approach to the par-four third as he moved into red figures.
Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson was two under after birdies at the fourth and fifth but playing partner and defending champion Phil Mickelson played the first five holes in regulation.
However, Ernie Els, who won the Claret Jug for the second time at Royal Lytham in 2012, had a disastrous start as he hit a spectator with his opening tee shot and proceeded to three-putt from 18 inches after firing his first attempt past the hole and hastily failing to sink the return with the back of his putter to card a triple-bogey seven.
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