Woods falters as British Open gets underway

A rusty Tiger Woods made a poor start to the British Open at Royal Liverpool Golf Club on Thursday with bogeys at the first two holes.

Playing in only his second tournament in nearly four months following back surgery, the 38-year-old American hit into a pot bunker at the first and missed a six footer at the second to slip to two over.

He salvaged par with a five-footer at the next and then steadied the ship with a morale-boosting birdie at the fourth.

Playing partner Henrik Stenson, the world number two, was level par at that stage.

Early playing conditions at Hoylake, where the Open was returning for the first time since 2006 when Woods won the 12th of his 14 majors, were picture perfect and soon there were plenty of red figures atop the leaderboard.

Swede Robert Karlsson, a former European number one who has been in a form slump over the last two years, grabbed the early clubhouse lead with a three under 69.

Playing in the day`s first grouping, the 44-year-old Ryder Cup star was out in one over 36, but produced a superb back nine which included four birdies to nose ahead.

Out on the course at three under was fancied Spaniard Sergio Garcia, who came close at Hoylake in 2006 and finished second to Padraig Harrington the following year at Carnoustie.

Garcia shot out of the blocks with three birdies in six holes where he stayed through the turn.

American starlet Rickie Fowler also played the front nine in three under, while Italy`s Matteo Manassero birdied 10 and 11 to match him.

A stroke further back was a group of 13 players which included Rory McIlroy who is seeking his third major.

Looking to finally come good at his home Open after six years of frustration, the 25-year-old from Northern Ireland was in fine fettle, hitting his approach stone dead at the second for a birdie.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson and world number one Adam Scott had afternoon start times as did Justin Rose, who was looking to win his third straight tournament and replace Scott atop the world rankings and newly-crowned US Open champion Martin Kaymer.

Most of the early focus, however in what is the 143rd edition of golf`s oldest and most prestigious tournament was firmly fixed on "fit-again" Woods.

The player who has dominated world golf over the last 17 years with 14 major wins came into Hoylake at a crucial juncture in his stupendous career.

The latest in a succession of swing-stress related injuries over the last few years saw him revert to back surgery in late March to relieve a pain that left him at times unable even to get out of bed.

Woods, 18 months shy of his 40th birthday, says that for the first time in years he is pain free and ready to go as he once again hones in on his lifelong obsession of matching and finally surpassing the all-time major record of 18 wins held by Jack Nicklaus since 1986.

Many though questioned his decision to return to action so quickly after his back surgery raising question marks over his physical and mental capacities at top tournament level.

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