Adam Scott shoots 64 to grab lead

Updated: July 20, 2012, 1:55 AM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- All-but-perfect weather let the leaders go low in the Open Championship on Thursday, as Adam Scott flirted with a major championship record before settling on the lead and Tiger Woods went low enough to put himself in contention through 18 holes.

Woods, the pre-tournament favorite, shot a 3-under-par 67 to put himself in position to pursue his 15th major title and fourth Claret Jug.

But Woods wasn't as good as Scott. The Australian flirted with the major championship scoring record before settling for a 64, matching the lowest score shot at Royal Lytham, one off the best in a Grand Slam event.

He leads a group of three players by 1 shot.

"It's nice just to take advantage of the calm conditions today," Scott said. "It was surprising but very pleasing to go out and play some solid golf. It's what I haven't done the first rounds of the majors this year, and that was my goal here, really, starting the week was to play today like it was Sunday and there was no tomorrow.

"I did a good job of that, and now I've got my work cut out for me the next couple of days to keep myself in a similar kind of position."

This is the first time Scott has held or shared the lead after the first round of a major, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Woods also got off to a good start, making four birdies in his first seven holes and getting under par -- as he had done in each of his three Open victories. To be in contention, you all but had to be under par Thursday. Woods missed just one fairway and hit 15 of 18 greens, but needed 30 putts.

"It was pretty soft," he said. "The wind wasn't blowing, and we're backing golf balls up. That's something we just don't see. On the first hole is a perfect indication; I hit a 5 iron straight at it, and it rolled out 8 feet. I can't remember the last time it does that on links golf course.

"So we knew that we needed at least to get off to a quick start on that front nine, and I figured a couple under would have been good. But I look up on the board and Scotty is going pretty low and so is everyone else. I felt I had to make a few more and I was able to."

After a summer of rain in England, it stopped drizzling early Thursday morning just as the first groups were teeing off at the 141st Open Championship.

And the wind died, too, making Royal Lytham a vulnerable links. It measured 6,973 yards during the opening round, and a slew of players finished in red numbers.

Paul Lawrie -- who has not finished in the top 10 of a major since winning the 1999 Open at Carnoustie -- Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion who is coming off a victory Sunday at the John Deere Classic in Moline, Ill., and Nicolas Colsaerts each shot 65 to trail Scott by one.

Brandt Snedeker turned in a 66 as the light faded.

Rory McIlroy, Masters winner Bubba Watson, Ernie Els and Graeme McDowell were among those who joined Woods with a 67

Woods shot a front-side 30, and it could have been better as he missed a couple of decent birdie opportunities that skimmed the hole.

Then he settled into par mode until the par-4 15th, where he missed his first fairway of the day, leading to a bogey. It was actually a good bogey, as he found deep rough, barely advanced it, then had another difficult shot just to get the ball on the green. He did, then two-putted for bogey.

It was Woods' ninth career sub-70 opening-round score at the Open, and in each of his three victories at St. Andrews (2000, '05) and Royal Liverpool ('06) he shot in the 60s.

"I felt like I played well today," he said. "I really hit it well. And as I said, I was very close on making a few more putts. Every ball was starting right on my line. I was very pleased with that. I've just got to hit the putts a little harder."

For Scott, he shot his best score in a major, beating the final-round 66 he scored this year during the final round of the Masters. His 64 was one off the major championship record of 63, which has been shot 25 times, and included a bogey at the 18th hole, where he drove into the deep rough to the left of the fairway.

There have been eight 63s in the Open Championship, the last by McIlroy two years ago at St. Andrews.

Scott, who won last year's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and employs Woods' former caddie, Steve Williams, admitted he thought about the major championship record score when he got to the 17th tee.

"I had to get that out of my mind," said Scott, who noted he would like to see the wind pick up.

Since 1975, just five first-round leaders of the Open have gone on to win: Woods (2005), John Daly (1995), Greg Norman (1993), Seve Ballesteros (1988) and Tom Watson (1980), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Lawrie, 43, is having a bit of a resurgence, having won tournaments each of the past two years on the European Tour after having no victories since 2002. He appears in line to make his first European Ryder Cup team since winning the Open in 1999.

Johnson, 36, birdied the second playoff hole Sunday to defeat Troy Matteson at the John Deere and win for the ninth time on the PGA Tour. But this was just his third round in the 60s -- and lowest -- in nine Open appearances.

"After all the chatter about conditions and how difficult this golf course is and how much rain is there going to be and how much wind is there going to be, it was kind of weird standing out there looking around in shirt sleeves at guys being 4-, 5- and 6-under par," McDowell said. "It was a pretty benign start to the week.

"I'm under no illusion that this golf course has no teeth, though, and it could be a sleeping giant for sure. But those were benign conditions and it was nice to take advantage of them."

Watson, whose gambling style seemed ill-suited for a British Open, was downright steady -- heck, even a little boring. He rapped in birdies when he had the chance and generally stayed out of trouble.

Colsaerts, a big hitter from Belgium, might've had the best round of the day, considering the breeze picked up and the rain returned in the afternoon. He holed out for an eagle at No. 2 and was 2 under on the tougher back side.

McIlroy wasn't too shabby, either. He rallied for birdies on two of the last three holes after an errant tee shot at the 15th struck a spectator in the back of the head, the ball ricocheting out of bounds behind a hamburger stand. He had to tee off again and took a double-bogey.

"If he could have headed it the other way, it would have been better," McIlroy quipped.

The 16-year-old fan, who was attending his first Open Championship, had his head bandaged up and appeared a bit woozy. Fortunately, he wasn't seriously injured. McIlroy came over to check on his condition and give him an autographed glove that said "Sorry" and included a smiley face.

"The most important thing was that he was OK," McIlroy said. "I would have felt terrible if it was worse than it was."

Not everyone had a smiley face. Defending Open champion Darren Clarke struggled to a 76. Lee Westwood, the English favorite and best player without a major title, got off to a sluggish start with a 73.

"I've got to go and practice," Clarke said. "I'm basically disgusted with myself for shooting 6 over."

World No. 1 Luke Donald, who's never been much of a factor in the majors, got off to a respectable start with a 70. But Phil Mickelson, the runner-up a year ago at Royal St. George's, made a total mess of things at the far end of the course. He took double bogey at the seventh after needing two swings to escape the punishing rough, and he bogeyed the eighth after hitting into a bunker, then popping out into another deep patch of rough, forcing him to take an unplayable lie. He finished with an ugly 73.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com