Woods has birdie start at British Open

Tiger Woods opened with a birdie as he returned to the British Open after a one-year injury timeout at Royal Lytham and St Annes on Thursday.

The 36-year-old American is aiming to capture a 15th major title to end a four-year win drought in golf’s crown jewel tournaments.

With three previous Open wins to his credit, Woods went out in the 18th of 52 three-men groupings, with England’s Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia of Spain.

In cold, damp, but calm early playing conditions at the bunker-strewn, par-70, 7086-yard Lancashire links layout, the 10-1 tournament favourite struck his tee shot to 10 feet from the pin at the par-three opener.

He then judged his putt to perfection to get his campaign off to an ideal start.

Two groups ahead of them, Lee Westwood, seeking to become the first Englishman to win The Open on home soil since Tony Jacklin did so on the same course 43 years ago, birdied the opening two holes with putts of three and 14 feet.

Defending champion Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland opened with a par, but a wayward drive at the second resulted in a bogey and he dropped another shot at the next hole.

The course was lush and the greens soft and receptive, leaving Royal Lytham’s 206 pot bunkers as the main obstacles to be overcome by a field of 156.

The early lead went to veteran Asian pair Jeev Milka Singh of India and Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand.

Scotland’s 1999 Open champion Paul Lawrie went three under through five holes, chipping in at the third and fifth and sinking a 10-footer at the fourth.

A win for Woods would leave him three shy of the majors milestone mark of 18 set by Jack Nicklaus in 1986 and it would complete a clean sweep of golf’s four top tournaments for Americans for the first time since 2004.

The competition for major glory at Royal Lytham will be ferocious, however, with the top three-ranked golfers in the world all being British.

No.1 Luke Donald and No.3 Westwood are both long overdue a win in the majors, having failed to do so a combined 93 times in the past.

Westwood, at 39, is seen as the better bet due mainly to his accuracy off the tee and his past near misses in the Open.

World No.2 Rory McIlroy, in his fifth British Open at the age of 23, is looking to rebound from his poor showing at Royal St George’s last year.

Fellow Ulsterman Clarke was trying to repeat his upset win last year, while other former winners looking to mount a challenge include Padraig Harrington and Louis Oosthuizen.

Donald has an afternoon start at 2.43pm with Phil Mickelson and Australian Geoff Ogilvy with McIlroy setting off two groups ahead of them.

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