LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England (AP) – Tiger Woods hit every tee shot exactly where he was looking, needed only eight putts through seven holes and reached 4-under par to quickly get his name atop the leaderboard Thursday in the British Open.
It looked like he was just getting started.
Instead, he stalled.
On as easy a day as Royal Lytham & St. Annes can provide – soft fairways and greens, little evidence of wind – Woods had to settle for a 3-under 67 that left him three shots behind Adam Scott.
Woods looked like he was capable of running away from the field with those four early birdies to take the lead. He narrowly missed a 10-foot birdie putt on the par-3 ninth hole for a 29, which would have been his lowest nine-hole start in any major.
“We knew that we needed at least to get off to a quick start on that front nine, and I figured a couple under would have been good,'' Woods said. “But I look up on the board and Scotty is going pretty low, and so is everyone else. I felt I had to make a few more, and I was able to.''
He covered the flag with his tee shot on the par-3 12th hole, leaving himself 12 feet below the hole. But when he walked onto the green, he saw a leaderboard packed with names. His was not at the top, rather somewhere in the middle. Scott already was at 6 under and challenging the major championship record of 63. Bubba Watson, Graeme McDowell and Zach Johnson, all of them major champions, also were at 4 under with plenty of birdie holes ahead of them.
Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but what followed was Woods' worst putt of the round.
That's when Woods shifted into neutral. He gave himself reasonable chances, and kept leaving putts short.
“I was just lacking a little bit of pace on the greens coming home,'' he said.
One of the best shots he hit all day kept was on the only hole where he failed to make par – and it saved him from a much higher score.
Woods worked out a game plan that looked similar to what he used at Hoylake five years ago when he last won the British Open. He rarely hit driver off the tee in an effort to avoid bunkers, only this was different. Royal Lytham's bunkers are staggered in the fairway, and they are everywhere. Woods didn't just stay short of them, he navigated his way expertly through them.
He hit a driver on No. 2 and a 5-wood on No. 10 that started left and over the heads of the spectators, only to curve gently back to the right and into a perfect spot. He appeared to be in complete control off the tee, which is pivotal for any good round at Lytham.
The exception came on the 15th.
Woods pulled his iron into the rough, the ball nestled at the bottom of 18-inch grass that had been trampled by footsteps and cables. He tossed aside the cable and some television equipment and tried to hammer a wedge some 60 yards over a pot bunker he couldn't see.
It was an example of Woods saying earlier in the week that some spots at Royal Lytham were “unplayable.'' He had a shot, just not much of one.
This one didn't make it 60 yards. The grass grabbed the shaft the club and turned it, and the ball fluttered into the side of a hillock in even deeper rough. The top of the grass came up to Woods' knees as he waited for his caddie to get the yardage – 118 yards to the front of the green, 137 yards to the hole.
Another miscue, and this could get ugly. But he hit that one onto the green, missing the pot bunker to the left, and hit a beautiful lag putt to escape with bogey.
“To carry it 80 yards, it's still … people don't realize how deep some spots are,'' Woods said.
He managed to finish the round without further incident, and the report card looked like this: two drivers out of his 14 tee shots; all but one fairway; and four birdies, though none over the final 11 holes.
“I felt like I had pretty good control,'' Woods said. “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.''
It was a solid start, and Woods will never complain about a 67, even on the slightly better half of the draw.
“I got off to a positive start today,'' Woods said. “We've got three more rounds. We've got a lot of golf to play.''