Tiger Woods down but not out after sloppy first round at British Open

Friday July 17th, 2009
Tiger Woods shot a one-over 71 in the first round.
Angus Murray/Golf Magazine

TURNBERRY, Scotland — The bookies had forecast a runaway in the 138th Open Championship, fancying a familiar protagonist to unleash his fury along Turnberry's golden links. At betting parlors throughout the United Kingdom, you could have had Tiger Woods at 2 to 1, and believed it safer than any blue chip stock.

But when Woods arrived to the third tee Thursday and yanked a drive beneath television scaffolding in the left rough, it was the beginning of a shakeup on Britain's betting board. Woods tossed a club at No. 9 and three-putted No. 10. He hit a bad chip at 15 and a ball into the water at 16.

"Hopefully, tomorrow, I can play a little better," Woods said while standing in a tent after his one-over 71. "Clean it up, put myself in the right direction."

For the fifth-straight major, Woods failed to break par in his opening round and placed himself in the position of pursuer. He spotted the leader, Miguel Angel Jimenez, seven shots, and 59-year-old Tom Watson, 2003 British Open champ Ben Curtis and Japan's Kenichi Kuboya six shots. Woods's best friend, Mark O'Meara, dusted him by four.

In a featured grouping with England's Lee Westwood and Japan's 17-year-old Ryo Ishikawa, Woods somehow finished last. (He was 1-to-2 odds to beat them both).

If rust and a cold driver hurt Woods at Augusta National and weather and a cold putter slowed him at the United States Open at Bethpage Black, Woods would have to look hard for an alibi through one round at Turnberry. The wind was down. Birdies and eagles were plentiful. Woods was stuck in neutral.

His struggles included a poor warm-up session on the range, where he kept pushing shots right with his driver. Then there's this: Woods has never shot worse than 67 to open a British Open that he won.

"I tried not to miss it right on three, and consequently I hit it left," Woods said. "The misses I had [during the round] were the same shots I was hitting on the range. I need to go work on that and get it squared away for tomorrow."

Both conventional wisdom and the betting lines pointed to Woods claiming his 15th major. Going into the championship, he had compared Turnberry to Royal Liverpool, where he shunned his driver on every hole but one and still won the championship. Instead of attacking Turnberry with just irons, he took several swipes with his driver and hit it poorly. On No. 7, a par 5 that was reachable in two shots, Woods misfired with his driver to the right and could only make par.

The sloppiness didn't stop there.

"[On] 16, I hit a 5-iron — I was trying to play about 20 feet left of the hole," Woods said. "The ball landed about 15 feet right of the hole [and in the water]. Not a very good shot."

Woods is close enough to the lead to still win his fourth claret jug, but he has made an already difficult task that much tougher. He has 54 holes left and quality names ahead of him — major champions like Vijay Singh (67) and Mike Weir (67), veterans like Steve Stricker (66) and Stewart Cink (66).

Woods isn't out of the game, but his start to this major looked a lot like the last two.

"I'll go to the range right now," he said before doing just that.

You could bet Woods was going to be there for awhile.

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