GULLANE, United Kingdom: The 142nd British Open got under way at Muirfield with Tiger Woods the favourite despite not having played competitively for a month.
The perfect playing conditions at the famed East Lothian links, which is hosting the Open for the 16th time, brought some early birdies with England’s Oliver Fisher, in the lead group, bagging birdies at the second, third and fifth holes to get to three under.
Woods, the bookies’ pick to win on the back of his superb start to the season, had a mid-afternoon tee-off time in the company of two other fancied players, Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen.
The 37-year-old American, who insists he has fully recovered from an elbow injury that has sidelined him since last month’s US Open, is seeking to win his 15th major title.
“I feel very good about my game. I’ve had a pretty good year this year so far – won four times. Even though I haven’t won a major championship in five years,” he said.
“I’ve been there in a bunch of them where I’ve had chances. I just need to keep putting myself there and eventually I’ll get some.”
Woods insists he is rested and fully healed and he will have to be as Muirfield, despite being bone-dry after two weeks of near non-stop sunshine, has weapons in the form of waist-high rough and deep pot bunkers all of which will test the most robust of elbow joints.
The focus of attention among the early morning starters was likely to be on Rory McIlroy, carrying a new “pear-shaped” Nike driver in his bag and hoping that that club can help him find the form that has eluded him since he switched equipment providers during the winter break.
The 24-year-old Ulsterman goes out at 9:44 am (0844 GMT) with American four-time major winner Phil Mickelson and rising Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama.
Three groups ahead of them are US Open champions Justin Rose, defending champion Ernie Els and American Brandt Snedeker.
Rose can become the first player since Woods in 2000 to win back-to-back US and British Opens and Els is out to defend the title he won at Royal Lytham last year on a course where he also won the last time it was played there in 2002.
Australian Adam Scott, the newly-crowned Masters champion is out to avenge his collapse at Lytham last year when he squandered a four stroke lead with four holes to play as Els sneaked past him with a birdie at the last.
Mickelson is sounding as confident as he ever has been at Open time following his win in the Scottish Open on Sunday, while Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter will join Rose in the bid to become the first English winner of The Open since Faldo did so at Muirfield in 1992.