Woods three behind Waldorf as putter fails him

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Updated: February 25, 2007 09:28 IST
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Gullane, Scotland:

Tiger Woods was mad, and not just at the photographers who bothered him on the first hole. After a day of frustration on the greens at the Muirfield links, he knew he would have to putt better to have a chance at golf's Grand Slam. Battling a balky putter and greens slower than he expected, Woods still managed a 1-under 70 Thursday to open his bid for a third straight major championship. On a day that was ripe for scoring, it left him three strokes behind early leaders Duffy Waldorf and David Toms, and not in the best frame of mind. Typically, though, Woods tried to put his best spin on a round where he needed 33 putts. "It is frustrating, yes, but it's OK. Sometimes they just don't go in. But if you keep hitting good putts like I did today, they'll eventually start going in,'' Woods said. Americans Waldorf and Toms shot 4-under 67s to lead by a shot over seven other players with about two-thirds of the field finished with the opening round. In at 3-under 68 were Thomas Bjorn of Denmark, Japanese Shigeki Maruyama, Ireland's Des Smyth, Sandy Lyle of Scotland, Englishman Justin Rose, Frenchman Jean Francois Remesy and American Steve Jones. But it was Woods who drew the huge crowds as he got off to a shaky start in his bid for the Grand Slam. A photographer who clicked his camera forced Woods to back off of his opening tee shot, and when he did hit the ball it went 20 yards right of the fairway into the knee-deep heather. Woods was clearly irritated, and spoke to the photographers who jostled for position behind him as he tried to hit it out of the rough. "You guys got enough pictures already?'' he asked. "You did it on the tee and you're doing it now.'' Woods regained his composure and somehow slashed the ball out of the deep rough into the fairway some 100 yards from the green. From there, he hit a wedge to 10 feet and made the putt for par. It would be one of the few bright moments for Woods on the greens, where he missed a number of makeable birdie putts within 15 feet and 3-putted for bogey on the fifth hole Despite hitting three tee shots into the heather, Woods reached 14 greens in regulation, but could not take advantage of his birdie opportunities. "We're not used to playing greens this slow,'' he said. On a calm day where the sun occasionally peeked out and scoring conditions were ideal, Muirfield showed it would not be too easy. Players battled their way out of the rough and bunkers, with Sergio Garcia needing two shots to get out of one pot bunker. Woods wasn't even the best player in his foursome, with Rose and Maruyama both shooting opening 68s. It was clear early that this Open would be far different from the US Open that Woods won last month to take his second major of the year. Instead of the boisterous crowds yelling comments at players, the fans at Muirfield offered only polite applause. When Woods hit his shot out of the heather on the first hole, one fan murmured, "Lovely shot.'' The surprises of the early play were the 44-year-old Lyle and Smyth, a 49-year-old who is playing in his 22nd Open. Lyle birdied the last three holes, while Smyth left a birdie putt short on the final hole for his chance at the lead. "I love playing in the Open. I always did,'' Smyth said. "Maybe I am not as afraid as I might have been in years gone by.'' One of Woods' main challengers, Phil Mickelson, had an afternoon tee time and was forced to wait while Woods made his way around the course. Mickelson believes that trophy case will soon be getting more crowded, perhaps with a claret jug this week. But, as the British Open began with Mickelson still chasing his first major championship, he prefers to look at the bright side of competing in the same era with a player who might become the greatest ever. "It's a great opportunity and great challenge to play arguably against the best player of all time,'' Mickelson said. "What a great way for me to try to compete, try to get better and bring out my best golf.'' The 32-year-old Mickelson has no history of him doing well in Britain, where he has missed the cut in five of the 12 Opens he played and finished in the top 10 only once. While Mickelson is 0-for-40 in his career in major championships, Woods has won seven of the last 11. (AP)

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