Tiger Woods would not call his 2-under 69 in the opener of the British Open a stroll in the park, but after yanking his first tee shot of the day off a tree deep in foul territory, the world No. 1 was pleased with his effort.
"I really played well, other than the tee shot at one ... but I really played well today," Woods said Thursday to ESPN about a round that could have gone south in a hurry were it not for some clutch play starting with a bogey save on the first.
"It was more of a grind than one of those pro-am, happy-go-lucky, you know, talking to your playing partner all day," he told reporters later. "There wasn't a lot of talking out there today, because we're trying to grind it out on that golf course, and it's one of those courses where it just got so difficult.
"We [Tiger and playing partners Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen, who withdrew with an injury] were all playing our own games."
For Woods, the immediate game was a defense against going the wrong way, like his chip from the rough on No. 6, which bumped and ran up to the green, only to scurry back down the slope and land in gnarlier grass even farther from the hole than where it started.
Indeed, he kicked off his afternoon in alarming fashion when he hit a provisional after believing he may have hit his tee shot out of bounds. He found the ball but had to take an unplayable lie in tall grass that immediately tested his injured left arm.
In addition to getting up and down for bogey, Woods reported that his "elbow held up great," and his misadventure on No. 1 was something he could laugh about later.
"Yeah, I mean, it was amazing, when I got over that tee shot, I was, if I hammer it, this 3-wood is in that bunker, so maybe I should take something off it," Woods said. "Maybe I should hit 5-wood. Hence I hit a flip hook left and there she goes. I took an unplayable, hit the shot where I wanted to, hit it right of the hole and I got up and down."
Shooting a 69 as course conditions became increasingly difficult was certainly a good start for the 37-year-old Woods. But Tiger boosters may want to curb their enthusiasm about their man ending his five-year major-less streak. He posted first-round 67s in his last two appearances at the Open Championship (2010 and 2012) yet walked away without the claret jug both times.
Further, Woods has been unable to convert opening under-par scores in majors into victories in the recent past.
Tiger Woods has broken par in 1st round of 5 of last 6 majors; in the previous 5 events, he only had 4 sup-par rounds after the 1st— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 18, 2013
Still, after he made the turn at 1-over 37, Woods promptly canned back-to-back birdies on Nos. 10 and 11, added another at 13, and made a two-putt bird on the par-5 17th after reaching the green with two 4-iron shots. He recorded a 3-under score on the back nine, which PGATour.com noted everyone else played at 2-over, and got himself squarely in the hunt.
Even more fortuitous for the oddsmakers’ favorite to win at Muirfield will be a morning tee time that promises softer conditions than the rock-hard fairways and greens he faced on Thursday.
"It was tough," said Woods, whose injured elbow forced him out of competition for the last three weeks. "It was a round that I had to grind it out ... It could easily get away from you out there today."