Woods in ominous early form

7/19/2012 12:16:03 PM
Tiger Woods  (Getty Images)
Tiger Woods (Getty Images)
Six years since winning his third Claret Jug, Tiger Woods was back on top of an Open Championship leaderboard in the first round at Royal Lytham & St Annes.

Woods has either been a non-runner or out of contention in The Open since his triumph at Hoylake in 2006. At Carnoustie the following year he never recovered from hitting the opening shot of his second round out of bounds, while in 2008 he missed Padraig Harrington retaining the title at Birkdale due to recovering from reconstructive knee surgery.

At Turnberry he missed the cut while at St Andrews he was 13 behind and he was also absent through injury at Sandwich last year, but after four tournament wins in the last eight months, Woods has climbed back from 58th in the Official World Golf Ranking to fourth and could be World Number One again with a victory on Sunday night.

Current Number One Luke Donald could still prevent that from happening by finishing second or third on his own, but Woods looked intent on at least fulfilling his part of the bargain on a calm, overcast morning on the English coast.

A birdie on the first - the only opening par three on the nine-course Open rota - from 14 feet was followed by more from similar distance on the fourth and sixth, before a pitch to two feet on the par five seventh secured another.

At four under par Woods led by one from Masters Tournament champion Bubba Watson and Australian Adam Scott, with 1999 Open Champion Paul Lawrie a shot further back on two under.

Two more Major Champions, Zach Johnson and Graeme McDowell, were also two under, while the early clubhouse target had been set at one under by England's Matthew Baldwin and Brazil's Adilson da Silva, who both recorded rounds of 69 after teeing off in the second group out at 6:41am.

England's Lee Westwood, seeking his first Major title at the 58th attempt, birdied the first two holes, dropped three shots in the next four, but then birdied the seventh and ninth to lie one under.

But defending champion Darren Clarke was three over after nine holes and Justin Rose - playing alongside Woods - was four over after seven.

Woods had a chance to match The Open record of 29 for the front nine at Lytham when he hit a fine approach to the par three ninth, but missed from 10 feet and had to settle for going out in 30.

Four under was no longer good enough to lead however, with Scott picking up birdies on the 12th and 13th to move to five under, while Watson was now also four under after smashing a drive and long iron to the front edge of the 583 yard 11th to set up a birdie.

The high-quality leaderboard then saw Johnson, McDowell and Lawrie on three under, with Ernie Els and fellow South African Thomas Aiken on two under.

Scott picked up further birdies on the 15th and 16th, the latter after a superb approach to three feet, to move to seven under.

And as well as giving the 31 year old a two shot lead, it left him needing to play the last two holes in one under to shoot the first round of 62 in Major Championship history.