HOYLAKE, England (AP) — The warm ovation Tiger Woods heard walking up the 18th fairway at Royal Liverpool sounded familiar, even if the circumstances were not.
Eight years ago it was because he was about to win the British Open.
Thursday was because he played.
Woods returned to the majors for the first time in 11 months on Thursday and gave thousands of fans perched along the hillocks what they wanted to see — a three-time Open champion looking as if he has the game to win another one.
He atoned for a bogey-bogey start with five birdies in a six-hole stretch at the end for a 3-under 69. Woods was three shots behind Rory McIlroy after a gorgeous day of sunshine and mild wind along the Irish Sea.
He was neither surprised nor satisfied. It felt like the other 250 rounds he has played in the majors as a pro.
"I knew I could do it," Woods said. "That's why I was telling you guys it was so important for me to play at Congressional. The fact that I was able to recover every day, and the fact that I was strong, more explosive the more days I played. ... I'm only going to get better from that point."
Woods had back surgery March 31 that caused him to miss the Masters for the first time, and then the U.S. Open. He returned earlier than he expected at Congressional three weeks ago and missed the cut by four shots. His short game was shabby and he made more mental mistakes than birdies.
The start of this round didn't look much different.
He missed the green with a 7-iron and drew such a tough lie on the downslope of the pot bunker that he had no chance stopping it anywhere near the pin. The shot went across and off the green, and Woods had to get up-and-down for bogey. Then, he badly misjudged the speed of a long birdie try and three-putted for bogey.
Two holes, 2 over.
Even more disturbing was his shot from behind the fourth green after going long with a wedge. Woods used his putter from 30 feet away and came up 8 feet short.
"I hit that putt in practice rounds and I know it's slower," Woods said. "It's more lush over there. There's more grain. It's thicker. I took that into account and still left it 8 feet short. But I buried that one, which was nice."
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