Tiger’s comeback yet to hit overdrive

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland — Some clouds came in and the wind started blowing — if just a bit — as Tiger Woods played the early holes Thursday, making what had been a warm, sunny day seem a little more like a British Open.

As if on cue, Woods’ game started looking a little more familiar, too.

A birdie on the first hole was just the start he needed. Another on the fourth got even the normally reserved British golf fans cheering.

As he stood in the middle of the sixth fairway with an 8-iron in his hand for his second shot on the par 5, Woods seemed poised to leap onto the leaderboard.

And then — well, that story is starting to look a little familiar lately, too.

Two tee shots into bunkers on the back nine. A missed 3-footer on the 13th hole. An 8-iron on the par-5 14th that went straight into a pot bunker with a fried egg lie.

And when it was all added up, an even-par 71 on a day when Carnoustie was there for the taking.

Not terrible, by any stretch. Certainly an improvement over the U.S. Open, where he shot a 78 in the first round and went on to miss the cut.

But it did nothing to change the state of Woods’ latest comeback, which remains stalled deep into the golf season. Just when he shows flashes of the greatness of the past, Woods follows it with the mediocrity of the moment.

And that may be the worst possible outcome anyone — especially Woods — wants to see at this time of year.

“I was right there,” Woods said. “I had an 8-iron to 6 and looking like I could really do something here. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite turn out that way, but part of this afternoon wave, I was one of the lower rounds.”

Yes, Woods was, though he was still five shots off the lead set early by Kevin Kisner. The luck of the draw does sometimes matter in golf — especially at the British Open — and Woods got the worst part with an afternoon tee time for his first round, and a morning time for Friday when rain is forecast.

Woods was also dealing with a stiff neck, something he wore a bandage called Kinesiology Tape for. But he showed no ill effects from it as he stormed into contention only to fail to birdie No. 6 and then fall back with a series of miscues on the back nine.

It’s been a pattern for Woods all year long, one that will have to change if he’s going to make this his first major championship win in 10 years. He’s been prone to making mistakes when he can afford them least, just when his game starts to resemble that of the player who won 14 major championships over an 11-year stretch.

That kind of record used to intimidate his opponents — and still does to some measure for players of a different generation. One of his playing partners Thursday was Russell Knox, a Scotsman who won the Irish Open two weeks ago and was playing with Woods for the first time.

Knox admitted he was in awe of Woods, something that may have caused him to struggle early on his way to a 73.

“He’s almost like a mythical figure,” Knox said.

Knox had a front-row ticket to watch the way Woods made his way around Carnoustie in his 20th British Open, and liked what he saw.

“He hit it good. He plowed his way around, which I expected him to, and he was very conservative off the tee,” Knox said. “It’s kind of fun to watch him do that, to be honest.”

Woods, who missed the last two British Opens while dealing with injury and personal issues, was as conservative as could be, hitting only one driver and one 3-wood on a links course playing so fast that balls could roll long distances after hitting the ground.

It’s a style of golf Woods likes to play, and one he has been successful at. He’s won three Opens, the last in 2006 at Royal Liverpool, which was playing hard and fast, much like Carnoustie.

“I’ve just always enjoyed — this is how the game should be played,” Woods said. “It should be creative. It should be played on the ground. You can utilize the ground as an ally. When we play home in the States, that’s not the case. Everything is going straight up in the air, but this is very different. It’s amazing the shots, the creativity. I mean, you can roll the ball 100 yards if you wanted to, or you can throw it straight up in the air. I like having those shot options.”

Assuming he makes the cut, Woods will have a lot more chances to explore those options. His game, for the most part, seems crisp and he knows as well as anyone what it takes to win an Open on a links golf course.

If he can somehow find a way to eliminate the mistakes that pop up at the worst times, it’s not inconceivable that he could break through at the age of 42 and win the Open once again.

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