Woods has reason for optimism after opening with 67 at St. Andrews

Tiger Woods carded six birdies before bogeying the 17th hole in his opening round at St. Andrews.
Fred Vuich/SI

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Two white pieces of tape around the middle and fourth fingers of his right hand attest to the fact that Tiger Woods has been practicing.

He's also been tinkering with his equipment, first going to a new, harder golf ball last month, and then, just this week, adopting a new Nike Method 001 putter, which replaced the old Scotty Cameron model he'd wielded so deftly since 1999.

What Woods hasn't been doing lately is scoring, but despite a few loose shots coming in he had reason for optimism after shooting a five-under 67 in the first round of the 150th British Open in unusually calm, slightly muggy conditions on Thursday.

"Every week I'm playing, the things I've been working on have been starting to come together," Woods said. "I'm hitting shots I haven't hit in a long time. It's building."

Clad in a pink golf shirt, Woods matched his opening round from his 2000 Open triumph at St. Andrews and trailed only Rory McIlroy (63), Andrew Coltart (66) and a 44-year-old John Daly (66) among the earliest starters.

He was well in command before pulling a three-foot par putt on the tough 17th (Road Hole) for bogey, and making a disappointing par on 18 after almost driving the green.

Woods hit the first 16 greens in regulation before tugging a 3-wood into the rough on 17 and failing to reach the putting surface out of the rough, leading to his first and only bogey of the day. Woods ended the day having hit 17 of 18 greens and 14 of 16 fairways, and was mostly happy with his work on the greens despite totaling 32 putts.

"I putted pretty good today," he said.

Still the No. 1 player in the world despite Phil Mickelson's ample opportunity to surpass him, Woods came to St. Andrews looking to recapture the magic that carried him to resounding victories here in 2000 and 2005. If every major could be played at the same course, he said recently, the Old Course is the one he would choose.

And so it seemed this would be the most likely starting point in the long-awaited comeback for Woods, who has never gone this deep into a season without a victory. Nothing that happened Thursday dispelled that notion.

Woods briefly lost his composure after hitting a poor approach shot on the par-4 sixth hole, slamming his club into the turf, but otherwise was all smiles, unperturbed by even a drop of wind as he played with Justin Rose (70) and Camilo Villegas (68).

All seemed right in the golf world again as Woods plotted his way around the course, fully engaged in the moment and rarely out of position. He got one lucky break as his drive on the 348-yard, par-4 12th hole bounded over the pot bunker in front of the green and rolled onto the putting surface, leading to a two-putt birdie.

"I'm in good shape," he said. "I took advantage of a golf course when I needed to take advantage of it. You know, as of right now we're on the good side of the draw, but you don't know [what conditions will bring] tomorrow."

Indeed, shortly after Woods gave his post-round comments, the wind picked up for the first time all day, and the sky began to spit rain. Mickelson, Lee Westwood and others were just beginning their rounds, wind whipping at their pant-legs.

Even Tiger's fans came out of hiding, as embodied by a 9-year-old boy named Joshua Hardy who was clad head-to-toe in Nike golf gear and absorbed in his own game just off the practice green near the driving range.

An 18 handicap, Joshua was toting his tiny golf club and occasionally chipping his golf ball along the grass. He took a few full practice swings, hitting all the right angles. Even after all the sordid accounting of Tiger's personal life, he is still a fan.

"I think it's all gone pretty much over his head," said Vince Hardy, who drove himself and his son 12 hours north from Eastbourne, England, to St. Andrews.

"It'd be interesting to ask the rest of the golfers how many are doing the same thing [Woods was engaged in]," Vince Hardy continued as Joshua bounced a ball on the face of his wedge. "At the end of the day, Tiger's the reason why the game is as strong and lucrative as it is. He's why we're all here watching."

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