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Tiger enjoys roaring success with little to get his back up

Hoylake in a heatwave.

Tiger Woods endured an uncomfortable start at Hoylake, opening with consecutive bogeys for only the third time in his major career. Picture: SNS
Tiger Woods endured an uncomfortable start at Hoylake, opening with consecutive bogeys for only the third time in his major career. Picture: SNS

It was not quite as sizzling as 2006 but Tiger Woods certainly got himself warmed up on the Wirral again. He is back, but how is his back? Well, he looked in fine fettle yesterday. Wounded and written off in many quarters, this particular Tiger proved that he could still be a very dangerous beast this week.

A three-under 69, in just his third competitive round in three months and his first in a major championship this season, had him lurking ominously again on the early leaderboard.

All the haverings of recent weeks have been about that injured back. Yesterday everybody was talking about a back of a different kind: a fightback.

It started with the pitiful whimper of a kitten surrounded by a pack of drooling dogs. It ended with the roar of a Tiger. A brace of bogeys on the opening two holes had the doubters rubbing their hands with relish as they predicted a round of unfettered misery and colossal calamity.

A few hours later, Woods, with an increasingly polished and poised display, had silenced the critics with something of a back-nine blitz. "It felt good to be back out there competing again and, after that start, I really had to fight myself back into the championship," said Woods, whose competitive comeback at Congressional a fortnight ago gave him the belief that all was well with his ailments.

"That event was a big stepping stone for me. If this was my first event back then I wouldn't know how hard I could go at it, how explosive I could be, what shots I could hit. I took care of all that at Congressional. I made some terrible mental mistakes there, though. My decisions weren't very crisp or decisive. Today was totally different and, consequently, I shot a better score."

There is a long way to go in this championship but Woods has made another significant statement of intent.

He declared the other day that the only acceptable finish here would be "first." Yesterday, he backed up that ambitious claim with a purposeful performance.

There were a few signs of rust, of course. His hoik at a fairly routine bunker shot on the first went skittering off the other side of the green and led to a dropped shot. He then sagged to a three-putt on the second to begin with back-to-back bogeys for only the third time in his major championship career. "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," he added.

A putt of 12 feet on the fifth, for his first birdie of the day, steadied the ship before he got into full sail on the homeward stretch with a haul of five birdies on his closing eight holes as he mounted a spirited salvage operation

The catalyst for the surge came on the 11th when he trundled in a putt from the fringe of the green. "It was a tough little putt, there was a clump of grass behind my ball," said Woods, who would make further gains at the 12th and 13th as his momentum gathered pace.

Woods tossed another bogey on to his card at the 14th but a punched 7-iron on the par-three 15th set up an eight-foot birdie opportunity which he seized before gobbling up another stroke on the raking 16th. An approach into the greenside bunker on the 18th left him in the kind of awkward position usually reserved for the later chapters of the kama sutra but, with one leg in the trap and the other out, he managed to dig down on the ball, pop it on the green and save his par.

Eight years ago at Hoylake, Woods began that imperious march to Open glory with a bogey on the first hole. He went on to pen a masterpiece, with a classy, controlled and commanding display, but producing an equally enthralling sequel this week was always going to be an almighty ask.

Woods has high expectations of himself, of course, and having gone through all the usual post-round chores, Woods nipped off immediately to the practice range. "I need to get everything a little better," he said.

There could be much better things to come as the Open goes on.

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