Tiger Woods may have lived up to his billing as the bookies’ red-hot favourite on day one of The 134th Open Championship at St Andrews, but a chasing pack of European Tour Members is hot on his heels determined to upset the odds.
The World Number One carded a six under par opening round 66 and heads the leaderboard by a shot from Australian Mark Hensby, who compiled a brilliant 67 in the worst of the weather conditions later in the day.
Lying in wait on four under is a ten-strong group which includes England’s Luke Donald, José Maria Olazábal of Spain, South Africans Retief Goosen and Trevor Immelman and Australian Peter Lonard. All five are members of the European Tour.
The two surprise faces among those tied for third place belong to European Challenge Tour player Tino Schuster of Germany and Scotland’s Eric Ramsay, the leading amateur.
Woods set the early pace on an overcast and breezy morning, reeling off seven birdies in nine holes before bogeys at the difficult 13th and 16th dropped him back to five under. The American made a three at the 18th, which proved to be one of the easiest holes all day, to sign for a 66 and set a daunting target for the rest of the field.
Hensby, who appears to save his best performances for Major Championships having finished tied third and tied fifth respectively at this year’s US Open and Masters Tournament, narrowly missed a birdie putt at 16 and could only manage par at the last to leave Woods clear by a shot as play ended.
“I’ve been playing well and I’m just trying to build on that,” said Woods, who went one better than his opening 67 here in 2000 when he won The Open by a record eight strokes.
“Today I got off to a nice start, I hit a couple of bunkers in the back nine which cost me a couple of shots, but overall I’m very pleased with six under.”
England’s Steve Webster, leading amateur ahead of Woods in The Open at St Andrews in 1995, briefly joined the American in the lead after a superb outward nine of 30, which included two eagles.
But in the strengthening wind Webster bogeyed the 10th and 11th and dropped two more shots at the troublesome 13th, leaving Immelman and Hensby to mount a late charge.
Immelman said: “I feel like I played really well. I holed all the putts I needed to hole. I have been looking forward to this event all year.”
His countryman Goosen, the World Number Five, was not so happy with his round of 68, which included seven birdies. “I don’t think my iron play is quite what I would like it to be,” admitted the South African, who is second on The European Tour Order of Merit. “I had a few good shots out there, and I did hole a few putts that helps around this course.”
Also on four under is 27 year old Luke Donald, who coped brilliantly with the added distractions of playing with Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson. The Englishman dropped just one shot to par at the short 11th and secured a rare birdie at the tough 13th.
“It was a great honour to be playing with these two greats,” said Donald. “I played fabulous. I kept it out of trouble and had some fun out there.”
A shot further back on three under is a group that includes six more European Tour Members – US Open Champion Michael Campbell, Spaniard Miguel Angel Jiménez, England’s Simon Khan, Thomas Levet of France, Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell and World Number Two Vijay Singh.