A round featuring five birdies – including four on the back nine – propelled Championship hot favourite Tiger Woods to a well-earned round of 69 on the first day at Muirfield. The three-time Open Champion overcame a bumpy start to finish two under par, in a six-way tie for ninth, very handily placed.
Graeme McDowell, who shot a four over 75 in the same group as Woods, said: “Tiger played phenomenally well for his two under. Really ground out well, did what he does best.”
Five years since his last Major win, Woods himself was happy to agree after completing an up-and-down round.
“I really played well,” said the world No.1, who has four wins under his belt in 2013. “I had to grind it out. More than anything it was just trying to hang around par. It was tough. I’m very pleased to shoot anything even par or better.
“It was so hard to get the ball close. Very difficult. I tried to keep the ball in front of me as best I could and sink a putt if I could keep it below the hole. But it was so difficult to get the ball even below the hole and in the right spot. I putted the ball off the green today, and it really wasn’t that bad a putt. Anything that goes four feet by, it’s gone. It’s tough.
“Fun? It was more of a grind than one of those Pro-Am, happy-go-lucky, talking-to-your-playing-partner days. There wasn’t a lot of talking out there today because we’re trying to grind it out on that course. Louis got hurt [playing partner Oosthuizen withdrew injured mid-round] and Graeme was struggling a little bit. It will be interesting to see what the course set-up is tomorrow. You pack for the other weather but we got this. Today we have a westerly wind, it was hot, the ball was flying. Tomorrow the wind is supposed to come out of the east and it could be cooler – or it could be warm. That’s the thing about links golf. You just don’t know. The wind actually changes with the tide, and the tide goes in and out. You’ve just got to be prepared for all of it, and be fluid in your course adjustments.”
Best of all for Woods, he had no pain from the elbow which has kept him out since the US Open at Merion last month.
“Elbow held up great,” he reported. “That’s one of the reasons I took the break, to make sure that was good. I knew the ground was going to be hard over here. That little time off helped. I’ve taken three and four weeks off before Major championships previously, and come back and played well.”