Tiger Woods opens with 69 at Hoylake

Former world number one not happy with trigger-happy photographers at Royal Liverpool

Tiger Woods  tees off on the fourth hole during the first round of the 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool  in Hoylake. Woods signed for a solid 69. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Tiger Woods tees off on the fourth hole during the first round of the 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake. Woods signed for a solid 69. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Fri, Jul 18, 2014, 01:00

It’s not an obsession, it’s more than that. Tiger Woods’s pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’s all-time record of 18 Majors started out as a childhood ambition – posters of the legendary golfer affixed to his bedroom wall – and evolved into a genuine pursuit. But, in more recent years, it has run into a dead end. He is locked on a number and can’t move on.

For different reasons, Woods has failed to improve on his own career haul of 14 Majors, the last of which came in the 2008 US Open. He has had some excuse.

Yesterday was his first round in a Major championship for 11 months, having missed the US Masters and the US Open this year following back surgery, and, opening with back-to-back bogeys on the first and second holes, we wondered if the old Woods would appear at all this week.

It didn’t take long for the man himself to provide an answer in the affirmative, firing five birdies in a run home that saw him sign for an opening round 69; and, secondly, smiling like a silent assassin, he took aim at those photographers – many of them spectators behind the ropes using their mobile phones to capture him – who had disrupted his round.

Side-swipe at snappers

In taking a side-swipe at the snappers, Woods said: “We were backing off a lot of shots . . . it was tough. Unfortunately, people just don’t put their phones on silent, or some of the professional guys were getting on the trigger a little early.”

The R&A, who have adopted a policy of allowing mobile phones into venues since 2012, use marshals – members of the Royal Navy, if you would – with select groups tasked to ensure spectators follow the mobile phone policy of keeping their units on silent and reminding spectators not to take photographs.

There are signs to remind spectators of the mobile phone policy. It is printed on programmes and on draw sheets. “I know there are many fans here who are experiencing the Open for the first time. We urge them and all our spectators to keep their phones on silent and remind them that taking photographs on championship days is not permitted,” said Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, the R&A’s executive director of championships.

Woods, for his part, simply made his point afterwards. The bigger picture, as it were, was the golfer – who underwent his surgery in March – has recuperated to the point the bid to win this week doesn’t appear unrealistic.

The only competitive action he had seen prior to arriving on the English western seaboard was two rounds at the National tournament at Congressional, where he missed the cut.

But there was method in teeing up there, not just motivated by the fact the tournament in Washington benefited his Foundation.

“I think (playing) Congressional was a big stepping stone for me. If I would have come back (at Hoylake), if this was my first tournament back, not really knowing how explosive I could be, how hard I could go at it, the shots I could play, all those were variables that I took care of at Congressional.

“So I was able to go out there today and play.”

And play he did, after those couple of early bogeys. Like taking baby steps, Woods started his recovery with a birdie on the fifth and then reeled off five successive pars before shifting into a higher gear.

Successive birdies

He ran off three successive birdies from the 11th to the 13th, was briefly halted with a bogey on the 14th, before bouncing back with back-to-back birdies on the 15th and 16th.

Was he concerned with being two-over standing on the third tee? “I’m not going to be the only guy in a 72-hole event to make two bogeys. I just got mine out of the way early. With the forecast the next couple of days supposed to be iffy, guys aren’t going to go really low here. We’re going to be bunched. It’s the type of golf course where the scores are going to be bunched.”

In admitting he needs all areas of his game to improve, Woods explained the difference between his play at Congressional and here. “I made just some terrible mistakes mentally. My decisions weren’t very crisp and I wasn’t decisive enough. Today was totally different. And consequently I shot a better score.”

Maybe the idea that Woods, without a Major win in six years, and playing only his second tournament since recuperating from back surgery, can actually win here isn’t far-fetched at all. Maybe he really is back.

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