Tiger Woods silences critics with strong start at British Open

Ian Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Tiger Woods made a noisy return to the majors with a 69 at Royal Liverpool.

Tiger Woods warned us he was ready to contend at his first major championship of the season. But did those of us who said we should expect little from the former world No. 1, picked him to flame out of just his second start since March, or rolled our eyes when he boasted he would finish "first" this week at Hoylake listen?

After he put up a 3-under 69 in the first round of the British Open on Thursday, the answer of course seems as obvious as Tiger’s automatic response to the traditional question of what he would consider an acceptable outcome to any tournament he enters.

Woods got off to a ragged, bogey-bogey start on the Royal Liverpool course where he won his Open Championship in 2006. But after canning a 30-foot birdie from the fringe on No. 11, he went on a Tiger-of-old tear, torching the track for four more birdies in the next five holes and finishing his opening round three shots shy of Rory McIlroy’s blistering 66.

So much for the guy with the bad back and a wobbly swing who missed the cut three weeks ago at the Quicken Loans National in his first stint back from spine surgery.

''I'm only going to get better,'' Woods said, repeating for those in the cheap seats who may have missed the mantra he chanted on Tuesday before taking the field in search of that elusive 15th major title. ''I'm getting stronger, I'm getting faster, I'm getting more explosive. The ball is starting to travel again. And those are all positive things.’’

Matteo Manassero (in sole second at 5-under) and Adam Scott (in a logjam at 4-under), among others, are not about to hand Tiger the Claret Jug just because he posted a strong second half to his first round, so Woods repaired to the practice range to work out some of the kinks.

"I need to get everything a little bit better," he said.

Then there was the intangible evidence — his demeanor in the media center and public display of displeasure with the distractions he’s come to expect over the years — that Tiger had returned to competitive form at a major.

"It wasn't that long ago," Woods responded cheekily to a query about whether his play on Thursday reminded him of days gone by. "I did win five times last year."

He was also vocal about the constant clicking and humming of photog’s cameras and spectators’ cell phones.

"Unfortunately people just don't put their phones on silent," he said. "Just put it on silent. Just put it on silent."

The statement Woods made with his game on Thursday was anything but.

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