- Bob Harig, Senior Golf Writer
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GULLANE, Scotland -- Given where his first tee shot ended up and considering the issues with his left elbow and the lack of golf he's played in the past month, a 2-under-par 69 for Tiger Woods on Thursday was more than acceptable.
Woods overcame an unplayable lie at the first, a chip that failed to stay on the green at the sixth and a putt that went off the green at the 12th to get under par and within 3 strokes of first-round leader Zach Johnson at the Open Championship.
"It was tough," said Woods, who has now been under par in five of his past six opening rounds at major championships. "The golf course progressively got more dried out and more difficult as we played. And I'm very pleased to shoot anything even par or better."
Despite sunny skies and comfortable temperatures that got into the 70s, Muirfield turned treacherous during the opening round, even though 14 players shot in the 60s. Among them were 56-year-old Mark O'Meara, Dustin Johnson, Brandt Snedeker, Phil Mickelson and 19-year-old Jordan Spieth.
Woods, 37, the No. 1-ranked player in the world, rebounded after a shaky first nine with three birdies in the first four holes on the back.
He opened the tournament, however, by hooking his tee shot into the left rough, thinking it was bad enough that he hit a provisional. The ball was found, but he deemed it unplayable, so he took a drop, got the ball into a greenside bunker and managed to get it up and down for a bogey.
"It was amazing, when I got over that tee shot, I was like, 'If I hammer it, this 3-wood is in that bunker, so maybe I should take something off it. Maybe I should hit a 3-wood,'" Woods said. "Hence, I hit a flip hook left, and there she goes."
For Woods, it was nothing new. He's had his share of first-tee jitters through the years. He double-bogeyed the opening hole at the 2008 U.S. Open three of the four days. And 10 years ago at Royal St. George's, his first tee shot was lost in the rough en route to a triple-bogey 7.
This time he recovered, and he also did well to save bogeys on some holes. Woods had 10 one-putt greens and needed just 27 putts. He also hit 10 of 14 fairways and 12 of 18 greens.
Not bad for a guy who had not played competitively for 32 days and didn't start practicing again until about 10 days ago because of the left elbow strain that hampered him at the U.S. Open.
Woods reported no issues with the elbow and downplayed the significance of a layoff.
"I've taken long breaks before, before major championships," he said. "I've taken three and four weeks off and come back and played well."
Woods was especially impressive coming in. He had a good two-putt on the 16th, knocked it on in 2 at the par-5 17th for a two-putt birdie, then managed to get up and down from 20 yards in front of the green with a strong lag putt and an 8-foot par saver.
"Tiger's 2 under was impressive," said Graeme McDowell, who played with Woods and shot a 75. "You have to be very patient and very conservative and keep the ball on the correct side of the pins."
Woods has gotten off to good starts in recent majors, only to struggle the rest of the way. In the past six majors, he is a combined 8 under par in the first round, only to shoot a combined 16 over in Rounds 2-4.
The good news is he might be able to get after Muirfield with a 9:44 a.m. local time (4:44 a.m. ET) tee time on Friday.
"It all depends on what they do," he said. "I don't know what they're going to do with the golf course, if they're going to keep it dry and fast and let it get to where it is this afternoon. Are they going to put some water on it? They put some water on it in the practice rounds. When we came out this morning there was moisture on them, but they dried out in the afternoon.
"And we're also supposed to get a different wind. It will be interesting to see what the course setup is tomorrow."
It will be equally as interesting to see how Woods, seeking his first major championship in more than five years, follows up a good start.
1dMicah Adams, ESPN Stats & Information