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july 19, 2012 • 12:18 PM

Late stumble keeps Tiger Woods from the lead at the British

Tiger Woods of the U.S. watches his tee shot on the driving range during a practice round ahead of the British Open golf championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes, northern England July 18, 2012.
Foto: Cathal McNaughton / Reuters
 

Tiger Woods spent some time atop the leaderboard held by Adam Scott, a once-familiar sight at the major championships for the American.

He played the first 14 holes at 4 under, finally stumbling after he sprayed his tee shot at the 15th into the thick rough. He needed two whacks to get out and wound up taking bogey.

Still, he finished with a 67 to position himself nicely for a run at his 15th major championship, looking to break a drought in the biggest tournaments that goes back to the 2008 U.S. Open. He certainly had a swagger in his step and showed plenty of emotion, strolling the grounds like he owned the place, mixed in with some anguished looks every time a shot didn't go exactly where he wanted. He largely played it safe, largely sticking with irons off the tee to avoid the tall, thick rough and devilish bunkers.

He just left a few putts short.

"I felt like I played well," Wood said. "I really hit it well. I was very close to making a few more putts. Every ball was starting right on my line. I was very pleased with that. I've just got to hit the putts a little harder.

The conditions couldn't have been any better for going low.

An early morning sprinkle gave way to dry weather, the sun making an appearance through the low-hanging clouds. There was hardly any breeze blowing in off the nearby Irish Sea, the flags atop the 18th grandstand barely rippling.

Showing excellent control off the tee — a must at Royal Lytham — Woods got rolling with a birdie at the opening par-3, rapped in another at the fourth, then grabbed the outright lead with a 20-footer at No. 6. He grimaced after each of his first two shots at the par-5 seventh, but was still in good shape, just short of a greenside pot bunker. He deftly chipped right up next to the flag and tapped in for another birdie.

A host of major champions took advantage of a course ripe for the taking. Paul Lawrie, who won a British Open best remembered for Jean Van de Velde's historic meltown on the 72nd hole, opened with a surprising 65. Masters winners Zach Johnson (65) and Bubba Watson (67) were right in the thick of things. So too were U.S. Open champions Ernie Els (67) and Graeme McDowell (67).

Terra