Coming into Royal Liverpool Tiger Woods’ last three competitive rounds had been 78, 74 and 75 which bookended nearly four months out through back surgery.
The World No 7, playing his first Major of 2014, then opened up bogey-bogey after a pushed approach and then three putts. But, after six birdies (five of which came in the space of six holes), the three-time Open champion posted a very satisfying three-under 69.
Woods has a knack of starting this Championship well – his most recent first-round efforts have been 69-67-67-71-69-67-66 – but this was all the more impressive given the rehab and lack of any golf, competitive or otherwise.
Eight years ago the 38-year-old made short work of the par 5s, this time he only managed to birdie two of them, but both the back-nine short holes were quickly reduced to twos after very precise tee shots.
Otherwise there was only one putt of around the 20-feet mark given a number of excellent approach shots which displayed, today at least, he had his swing and distance control in perfect order. Come the end of the day he had hit 14 of 18 greens, rarely got himself out of position and, on the rare occasions he did, he managed each situation impressively.
While playing partners Angel Cabrera and Henrik Stenson made simple errors, Woods coolly pieced together a very neat opening gambit. Almost like the old days.
And much like 2006 the driver stayed under wraps – it made one fleeting appearance at the 16th (and found the short stuff). This was a day of staying out of the rough and short of the bunkers and knowing when to attack or defend.
"I did win five times last year!” – Tiger Woods, after his opening 69
“It wasn’t exactly the greatest of starts but I turned it around and ground my way round. I still had four par 5s to go and I still had a couple of short holes so if I played those holes well and the tough hole even par I would be somewhere under par,” he said.
As for his fitness it’s on the way back and, despite the missed cut at Congressional, the two rounds there played a pivotal role in being able to piece this round together.
“That was a big stepping stone for me. 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.”
And while we might not have seen too much of Tiger this year, and the question of whether 14 could become 15 Majors is repeatedly asked, Woods reminded everyone that some of his best form isn’t too much in the distant past.
“It wasn’t that long ago, I did win five times last year!”