Tiger Woods is back at the majors.
Seems like he was never away.
After a shaky start to the British Open, Woods ripped through Royal Liverpool on Thursday much as he did eight years ago when he won the Claret Jug for the third time. A 30-foot birdie from the fringe of the 11th green got him going. Four more birdies in the next five holes carried Woods to a 3-under 69, leaving him three shots behind leader Rory McIlroy. Not bad for a guy playing his first major of the year, who was unable to swing a club for months after back surgery.
"I'm only going to get better," Woods said. "I'm getting stronger, I'm getting faster, I'm getting more explosive."
For McIlroy, it was another blistering start. But can he keep it going?
McIlroy took full advantage of prime scoring conditions for those who went out early, a 66 putting him in the familiar position of first-round leader. He has played the opening round in a cumulative 55-under par this year, including three 63s and a course-record 64 at last week's Scottish Open.
But McIlroy failed to win any of those events. His total score on Fridays — 15 over.
"Maybe it's having higher expectations going out on a Friday because you shot a low round," said McIlroy.
Woods is just happy to be playing after the March 31 surgery kept him out of the Masters and the U.S. Open.
He bogeyed the first two holes on a mild, sunny morning with only a hint of a breeze rippling the flags. Down the stretch, he looked more like the player who went 18 under the last time golf's oldest major was held at this course along the Irish Sea.
"I felt good about a lot of things I did out there," said Woods, who played the back nine in 4-under 33. "Especially coming back after that start I had today, to fight myself back into the championship."
Matteo Manassero made only one bogey and also shot 33 after the turn, capitalizing on a quirk in the course which puts three par-5s in the closing nine. He birdied them all for a 67.
The wind picked up through the day, making it tougher for those with afternoon tee times.
Even so, Adam Scott made a run at the leaders, spurred by an eagle at the fifth. The world's top-ranked player staggered a bit coming to the finish but still managed a 68, matching Spain's Sergio Garcia and a pair of Americans, Jim Furyk and Brooks Koepka. Another shot back, Woods was at 69 with several players.
Defending champion Phil Mickelson was among those who faded late in the day. He shot a 74.
John Singleton, the 30-year-old qualifier who works in a factory 10 minutes from Royal Liverpool, shot a 6-over 78 and probably won't make the cut.