HOYLAKE, England – Tiger Woods is back. His back seems fine too.
Playing in his first major championship of the year, Woods bogeyed the first two holes Thursday at the British Open to get his round off to a sluggish start at Royal Liverpool, a place where he won the Open in 2006.
A birdie on the par-5 fifth hole helped, but Woods’ short game still looked scraggly over the next few holes – much like it did three weeks ago at the Quicken Loans National – where he got up and down for par only three out of 16 times in 36 holes.
Then, Woods made the turn and became a new man. He made five birdies in a six-hole stretch from Nos. 11-16 (made bogey on 15) and cruised to a 3-under 69 in absolutely perfect, sunny, windless conditions. Rory McIlroy shot 66 to grab a one-shot lead after Round 1.
Woods, playing in his 19th major since he last won one at the 2008 U.S. Open, has now shot an opening score in the 60s in each of the last three times he played the British Open.
“I felt good about a lot of things I did out there today,” said Woods, who was the low man in his group with Henrik Stenson (72) and Angel Cabrera (76). “Especially coming back after that start I had today, to fight myself back into the championship. I feel pretty good about it.”
Woods reiterated what he said earlier this week, that his back is fully healthy and that physicians have told him he can resume his complete routine without restrictions.
Although he only hit one driver in the round (on the par-5 16th hole), Woods aggressively went after several shots from the rough, stopped midway through his downswing on the 18th fairway when he heard gallery chatter, then made a swing from a greenside bunker on 18 that required him to hit the ball with one foot in the bunker and one foot out of it. All show signs that the three-time British Open champion is back up to speed.
“I’m getting stronger, I’m getting faster, I’m getting more explosive,” Woods said. “The ball is starting to travel again. And those are all positive signs.”