'Did you guys see where it went?'
All eyes were on Woods as he teed off in pursuit of the Open title. Fans lined the fairways straining for a view, even a glimpse of Woods. The best player in the world had to be wishing they paid more attention to his ball.
Woods came to the Open hoping to break a mini-slump of no wins in his last four majors. Now he was in danger of shooting himself out of the tournament almost before it began.
With one swing, he lost a ball -- and his cool -- on his way to a triple-bogey seven.
Other players might have given up. Even Woods was forced to find a way to regroup.
'It was a little disconcerting,' Woods said.
Seventeen holes later, Woods made his way in with a 2-over 73. He managed to overcome not only the lost ball on the first hole but also three straight bogeys on the back nine.
Now, the only job he had left was to try to convince himself that the whole thing was a positive experience that might actually turn out for the best.
'I've kept myself in the tournament,' Woods said. 'I had 17 holes to get it back. At least I got one back.'
Woods ended the day five shots behind unlikely first-round leader Hennie Otto, but he did have some reason to be happy.
Despite spraying the ball off the tee all day into knee-high rough and deep bunkers he stayed within striking distance in an Open where howling wind and unlucky bounces can alter the leaderboard at any moment.
With a leader as unlikely as Otto, players getting hurt, and a gaggle of scores in the 80s, Woods was definitely still in the hunt.
He couldn't have imagined a worse start. He, Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald teed off on the 442-yard par-4 first hole that also haunted many of his fellow players.
A few groups earlier, Jerry Kelly hacked it from rough to rough before sinking a 15-footer for an 11.
Unlike Woods, he found his ball every time he hit it.
For five minutes, Woods, his playing partners, and about two dozen others paced the deep rough off the first fairway looking for his wayward tee shot.
At first, Woods had a perplexed look on his face.
Quickly, it turned into a frown.
The British Open has always been known for its quirks. Woods predicted before play began there would be some ugly bounces on the mounds of Royal St. George's.
But the best player in the world losing his ball on his first tee shot of a major championship? With thousands of people watching?
'It's frustrating when the forecaddies tell us they saw where the ball went in and heard it go in but we just couldn't find it,' Woods said.
The ball went into rough that was no more than ankle high, but was matted down and thick. By the rules of golf, Woods had five minutes to find it.
'Over here, this way,' spectators shouted, leading Woods in several directions.
It was no use. Woods got into a golf cart for the lonely trip back to the tee to hit again, but not before an expletive came out of his mouth.
By now, Woods was angry and still had to hit another drive. He put it just past his first drive, but this time the marshals were right there waiting and found it quickly.
He ended up with a triple bogey, then walked quickly to the second tee with his head down.
Woods would make a birdie on the fourth hole and play the rest of the front nine 1-under. But he kept hitting his driver in bad places, angrily banging it on the ground after hitting it into the right rough on the seventh hole.
Woods has struggled with the driver off the tee even while winning four tournaments this year.
'These fairways are tough to hit but I have to say the majority of drives I hit today weren't very good and the ones I hit well didn't end up in the fairways, either,' Woods said.
The driver got him into even more trouble on the back nine, with drives into bunkers leading to two of three straight bogeys. But Woods came right back to sink long birdie putts on the 15th and 16th holes to keep his round in check.
He nearly dropped a 90-footer from off the front of the 18th green that hit the back of the hole and popped out.
Woods wasn't nearly as unhappy about that break as he was about the lost ball.
'If it doesn't hit the hole it's probably OB,' Woods said.
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