Tiger Woods had a few shaky moments at the Open on Thursday, but he was able to mitigate the damage early before making a run on the back nine to finish the first round at 2-under, good enough for getting into the clubhouse tied for ninth.
Playing in his first tournament since the U.S. Open, Woods showed no ill effects of the elbow injury that sidelined him for a month. He didn't start well, hooking his opening tee shot into the thick rough. He was forced to take an unplayable lie and then hit his third shot into a greenside bunker. Woods, however, did an excellent job of scrambling all day and got up-and-down out of the sand to "save" bogey.
A birdie on No. 4 moved him to even-par on the round, but he dropped back to 1-over with a bogey at No. 6. Tiger closed his front nine with three straight pars, going out in 37. His front nine could have been worse, but he made a few putts and got up-and-down to limit the damage and hang on at a Muirfield course that featured what some called the fastest greens in Open Championship history.
Muirfield's back nine features six of the hardest seven holes, and with the sun baking the course throughout the day, it was playing even more difficult for the late groups. Despite the conditions, Woods made a charge on the final nine holes, beginning with birdies at No. 10 and No. 11. A solid tee shot and a long birdie putt on No. 13 moved him to 2-under for the round. He gave the shot back, however, at the next hole with a bogey on No. 14. Woods' lag putt on the 14th went long and rolled off the back of the slippery green, leading to a three-putt.
He moved back to 2-under three holes later after drilling his second shot into the green of the par-5 17th hole. Woods' eagle putt missed left, but he tapped in for birdie. On No. 18, he drove it into the rough but was left with a favorable lie and was able to make a 10-foot putt for par and close out the round of 69.
Muirfield's deep bunkers can pose a serious challenge, but Woods was terrific out of the sand all day, going three-for-three to start the round. That included a terrific save on No. 12 where Woods got up-and-down despite hitting the bunker shot from one knee.
At 2-under, he's in fine position to contend on the weekend and in much better shape than he was at Merion. He'll also be out in the morning wave on Friday, which should get the more favorable conditions before a day's worth of sun once again dries out the historic links layout.