Tiger solo in Old Course practice round

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- For the first time since he hoisted the Claret Jug here five years ago, Tiger Woods stepped onto the Old Course on Sunday and began preparations for the British Open.

Teeing off just after noon local time (7 a.m. ET), Woods faced blustery conditions during a practice round at the "home of golf," where he won British Open titles in 2000 and 2005. The 139th Open Championship begins Thursday.

About 50 spectators followed as Woods played by himself with caddie Steve Williams.

In the group behind was 2002 Open champion Ernie Els.

Other high-profile players on the course Sunday were Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Angel Cabrera and Vijay Singh, Padraig Harrington and Dustin Johnson.

Woods won by eight shots here in 2000 when he completed a career Grand Slam for the first time. In 2005, it was his second major of the year and clearly validated swing changes he had undergone. He missed the cut at last year's British Open at Turnberry.

Now he is trying to win for the first time since returning after a self-imposed leave from the game due to marital infidelity.

This will be his seventh event of the year and is the longest he has gone into a season without a victory since 1998, when he won in his ninth start.

He probably could not ask for a better venue. Woods has often described the Old Course as among his favorites and when asked at the U.S. Open where he'd choose to play four major venues in a year, he quipped: "I'd probably pick St. Andrews all four times.''

That is understandable when you consider his two victories by a total of 13 shots.

"The first time I played it was in 1995,'' Woods said earlier this week in Ireland, where he competed in a two-day charity pro-am. "My introduction to links golf was Carnoustie at the Scottish Open and then St. Andrews. And I fell in love with it.''

Woods has tied for fourth at both of the previous major championships this year.

After finishing tied for 46th at the AT&T National on July 4 -- his worst 72-hole result in five years -- he flew overnight to Ireland for the two-day pro-am, then returned home to Orlando, before heading back across the Atlantic on Saturday.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com.