Tiger Grinds Out 2-under 69 in Tough Afternoon Conditions

After not playing in a tournament since the U.S. Open to rest his injured elbow, Tiger Woods shot a gritty 2-under 69 in the first round of the Open Championship at Muirfield on Thursday. He is three shots behind leader Zach Johnson.

"I really played well today," Woods said. "It was tough. I had to grind it out."

Woods got off to a rocky start by hitting his tee shot into the thick rough on the first hole. Woods later conceded he thought he had hit it out of bounds, and salvaged a bogey on the par-4 first hole. He then salvaged pars on the next two holes and birdied the par-3 4th hole to get back to even par. After bogeying the par-4 sixth hole and conditions getting worse, Woods's round could have headed south, but Woods showed his resiliency to make pars on the next three holes before making birdie the par-4 10th and 11th holes to to get 1-under for the tournament. 

He birdied the 13th hole to go 2-under, bogeyed the 14th, and then hit a terrific approach shot on the par-5 17th hole, getting the ball to stay on the green, which was an accomplishment on Thursday as players--even Woods--putted their golf balls off the green. Woods two-putted for birdie and then saved par on the 18th hole. On the closing hole, he hit his tee shot into the rough before saving par. 

The course was baked, making the greens seem like glass because there was no moisture in sight. Friday's forecast calls for some strong winds, but Woods, who will have an early tee time on Friday, may be able to play in more favorable conditions, though one never knows what the weather will do at the Open Championship. Woods is seeking his 15th major and first in five years.

It would indeed be fitting if Woods made his major comeback at Muirfield, where Mother Nature cruelly crushed and derailed his dreams of a grand slam in 2002.

Woods came to Muirfield that year after having won the Masters and the U.S. Open. He had a legitimate chance to win the tournament--and contend for the grand slam--when he began the weekend two shots behind Ernie Els's lead going into Saturday.

Then, Mother Nature had other plans. He shot an 81, his worst round as a professional, in unbearably brutal weather. 

Mark O'Meara, his friend and playing partner that day who is in second after shooting a 4-under on Thursday, told him that the resolve Woods showed that day meant he had "arrived." 

With his 2-under 69, Woods has put himself in position again to take one more step in his lifelong pursuit of Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 majors. 



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