Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland established a new course record with a 6-under-par 66 on Thursday and has the lead, but all of the attention will be focused on Woods.
Despite the miscue and how easy scoring conditions were for a good chunk of Thursday's opening round, Woods stuck to his conservative game plan, leaving the driver in the bag.
Woods birdied the fifth to get back to even-par, then rolled in a 10-footer for birdie at the ninth to break into red figures. At the 11th, Woods hit an errant drive, but hooked his second to 10 feet and converted that to get to minus-2.
Woods finally pulled out the big club at the par-5 16th and the decision die not seem to pay off. His drive landed in the 17th fairway, but Woods hit it on the green and two-putted for a birdie.
'I decided to hit driver there because I thought I could take the bunkers out of play,' said Woods, whose two British Open titles both came at St. Andrews. 'Which I did, I just went left of them instead of going over them. That was the only altering of the game plan today.'
At the closing hole, Woods hit a 2-iron into the fairway. He used another long iron to reach the putting surface, then sank a 35-foot eagle putt to get within one.
The eagle putt prompted a big fist pump and now Woods is in great shape to capture his first major of the year. However, the No. 1 player in the world knows conditions are going to get tougher.
'I'm in good shape, but we've got a long way to go,' admitted Woods. 'The course is only going to get faster. I don't think the R&A really appreciated us going this low.'
Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain, Keiichiro Fukabori of Japan, and Englishmen Greg Owen and Anthony Wall joined Woods in a share of second place at 5-under-par 67.
A huge group of players are at 4-under-par 68 and some are the biggest names in golf, including Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, three-time major winner and 2002 British Open champion Ernie Els, 2003 Masters winner Mike Weir, the U.S. Open champion from the same year, Jim Furyk, and 1996 British Open winner and U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman.
Also tied for seventh place at minus-four are Marcus Fraser, S.K. Ho, Brett Rumford, Ben Crane, Memorial winner Carl Pettersson, Mark Hensby and Mikko Ilonen, who won the British Amateur at Royal Liverpool in 2000.
Reigning Masters and PGA champion Phil Mickelson, trying to rebound from a double-bogey on the 72nd hole that cost him the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, reached 4 under par through 10 holes on Thursday, but bogeys at 12 and 14 dropped him down the leaderboard.
The No. 2 player in the world rebounded with a 6-foot birdie putt at the par-5 16th, but squandered a birdie chance at 18. In the end, Mickelson posted a 3-under-par 69 and is tied for 20th place with such players as Darren Clarke, Robert Allenby, 50-year-old Fred Funk, reigning Rookie of the Year Sean O'Hair and Lee Westwood.
'The last eight I struggled a little bit. I wasn't quite hitting it the way I wanted to there in the end,' acknowledged Mickelson. 'I fought hard to keep it at 3 under and I'll take it. We've got three rounds left and I have to go make some birdies.'
Birdies were in large supply early on Thursday at Royal Liverpool, a course which has not hosted an Open Championship since 1967. Players were treated to great scoring conditions early in round one as five hours worth of overnight rain softened the track.
However, as Thursday dragged on, the wind picked up and the course dried out and played much quicker, as it had in the practice rounds throughout the week.
McDowell collected his first birdie of the round on Thursday at the par-5 fifth. He added another at seven, but appeared to be in trouble at the par-3 ninth. McDowell found a bunker off the tee, but holed out for his third birdie of the round.
That hole-out birdie spurred McDowell up the leaderboard. He birdied the 10th, then tied for the lead at minus-5 when his 10-foot birdie putt found the bottom of the cup at 11.
McDowell broke out of the tie for first at the par-5 16th as he had a good look at eagle from 18 feet. He missed that putt, but tapped in for birdie and sole possession of the lead.
At the par-5 closing hole, McDowell hit a horrible drive left of the fairway. He laid up with his second, then played No. 3 to 20 feet. McDowell missed the birdie putt, but is still alone on top of the leaderboard.
His 66 represents a new course record at Royal Liverpool as Gary Player and Roberto de Vicenzo, who won in 1967, posted 67s to go along with the five players who carded the number on Thursday.
'I controlled my ball well today so I'm pretty pleased,' said McDowell, who played this course in the 2000 Palmer Cup. 'I didn't light things up with the putter, but we'll save that for the weekend.'
Owen, who has battled a serious back injury in recent years, plodded along with birdies at the fifth and eighth holes, but dropped a shot at the par-4 12th. Owen caught fire after the bogey and moved into the lead.
The Englishman birdied the 13th and 14th to reach 3 under par, then tied the large group at minus-4 with a birdie at the par-5 16th. Owen two-putted from 30 feet at the closing hole to reach 5 under par.
'I couldn't ask for anything better at the moment,' said Owen, who primarily plays the PGA TOUR and finished second this year at Bay Hill, when he three-putted from five feet for a double-bogey on the 17th hole. 'I had a really good morning and I'm very happy.'
Wall moved to minus-6 after a tap-in eagle at the 16th, but fell to 5 under par because of a three-putt bogey at 17.
'I played some good golf,' said Wall. 'You need the luck. That's the main thing and here I am. I'm playing solid golf and I feel like I know what I'm doing now.'
Jimenez overcame a bogey at the fourth with a birdie at five and three in a row from the eighth. He added birdies at 16 and 18 to join the group in second place.
Fukabori's last par came on the 12th hole and when his eight-foot birdie putt at the last fell, he found himself at minus-5.
The two remaining top-five players in the world rankings are part of a group tied for 33rd place. Vijay Singh and Retief Goosen, along with, among others, Fred Couples, former U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell, Chris DiMarco and 2001 champion David Duval, all posted 2-under-par 70s on Thursday.