Woods starts fast with three-under 67 at British Open

Tiger Woods, Round 1, 2012 British Open
Robert Beck / SI
Tiger Woods hit 13 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens in regulation on Thursday.

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- Tiger Woods had signed for his opening-round 67 and had done his lengthy broadcast interview and his much quicker print-media interview when he showed just how relaxed he was after getting off to a solid start at the 141st British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

Walking toward the driving range, past the short game area, Woods spotted Robert Allenby working in a bunker and went out of his way to pick a ball off the green and throw it playfully at his friend. Allenby looked up and smiled.

Thursday was that kind of day for Woods, who enjoyed near total command as he hit 13 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens in regulation. The only blemishes: He missed left on 15 and took two slashes to extricate himself from the rough, took 30 putts, and after firing a four-under-par 30 on the front, shot 37 on the back.

"I felt like I had pretty good control," said Woods, 36, who is trying to win a major for the first time since collecting his 14th major title at the 2008 U.S. Open at San Diego's Torrey Pines. "I was shaping the golf ball both ways. Sometimes I rode the wind, sometimes I held it against it. But as I said, I was playing to my spots. I had certain sections I wanted to put the ball in, and I did that all day."

Woods had plenty of company in red numbers among the early starters.

Adam Scott, who is gunning for his first major, led after signing for a six-under 64 that included a bogey at the par-4 18th hole.

Paul Lawrie, the Scot who benefited from Jean Van de Velde's meltdown to win the Open in 1999, and 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson, who is coming off a victory at last week's John Deere Classic, were tied for second at five under.

Major champions Ernie Els, Graeme McDowell and Bubba Watson also shot 67. Woods's playing partners, Sergio Garcia (72) and Justin Rose (74), struggled in the calm conditions. "It was pretty soft," Woods said. "The wind wasn't blowing, and we're backing golf balls up. That's something we just don't see. On the first hole is a perfect indication; I hit a 5 iron straight at it, and it rolled out eight feet. I can't remember the last time it does that on links golf course."

Three men came to the course wearing tiger outfits, and they were part of a thick layer of fans that lined the par-3 first hole for Woods's 9:42 a.m. tee time. Wearing beige slacks and a beige sweater over a pink shirt, the headliner didn't make his fans wait long for a highlight, striping his tee shot safely short of the pin and popping a 15-foot birdie putt that just tumbled over the left edge of the cup.

Woods's play on the hard, 465-yard, par-4 third hole, where Lee Westwood had just made double-bogey two groups ahead, spoke volumes. With a 3-wood, Woods hit a stinger that started out head-high at the media pen behind the second green but faded perfectly into the fairway. Garcia and Rose started their tee shots well right of where Woods had aimed, but with a draw, and the Europeans found themselves in the left rough, having to pitch out sideways.

If there was a flaw in his game, Woods said, it was his pace on the slow greens, where he said his line was all but perfect, but his speed was not.

"Every putt was right on my line," he said. "They were dying off the front of the lip. So I needed to hit the putts a little bit firmer."

Woods now must back up his solid first round with three more like it, or better. That's how he won 14 majors by age 32. He looked destined to win his 15th at the U.S. Open at San Francisco's Olympic Club last month, when he shot 69-70 to share the 36-hole lead with Jim Furyk, but Woods uncharacteristically faded on the weekend and plummeted to a tie for 21st place.

He's brought his rebuilt swing from the practice range to the course, from the course to the PGA Tour, and has won three times already this year. All that's left is to stay on his game for more than a round or two in a major. If and when that happens, the chase to eclipse Jack Nicklaus's 18 major victories will resume, and Tiger Woods will once again be playing with history.

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