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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 July 2007, 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK
Taming the Tiger
By Rob Hodgetts
BBC Sport at Carnoustie

Tiger Woods is always a big draw at the Open
Wherever Woods goes the crowds go too

Tiger Woods threatened to take the Open by the scruff of the neck after just six holes on Thursday but the defending champion found Carnoustie a tough animal to tame.

The world number one, chasing a third straight Open title, drained an 18ft putt for an eagle on the 578-yard par-five 6th to join KJ Choi in the early lead at three under on a dreary day on the Angus coast.

"Well, that's it. It's all over. We might as well go home now," said a wag in the gallery. And as the roar rumbled around the green, there must have been plenty of golf watchers who echoed these thoughts.

But Woods was unable to push on and overpower a course expected to play significantly easier than the one dubbed "the beast" when the Open was last staged here in 1999.

Woods described his two-under 69 as "very satisfying" but he will know he has his hands full if he is to become the first player to win three Opens in a row since Australian Peter Thomson, who triumphed from 1954-56.

The American, sporting huge waterproof mittens, arrived on the putting green under light drizzle and a gunmetal sky at 0900 BST and left exactly five minutes later.

Game face firmly attached, Woods, his caddie Steve Williams, coach Hank Haney, several policemen and some security goons, not so cleverly disguised as marshals, strode to the first tee for a 0909 BST rendezvous with 1999 winner Paul Lawrie, of Scotland, and English fancy Justin Rose.

Woods's welcome was polite but it was Aberdonian Lawrie, the surprise winner eight years ago, who received the crowd's chief urgings.

"I didn't feel my best on the first tee, I would be honest enough to say," Lawrie admitted afterwards.

"It was a difficult moment but you've got to stand up there and hit a shot. You've got to control these situations and get on with it, but it was nice once the tee shot was gone."

When Woods is grumpy he's got a face as long as a thoroughbred

Drives duly dispatched, the bun fight began as the media circus following Woods trundled into gear up the first fairway.

With radio, TV, pressmen, spotters, marshals and sundry officials, the entourage numbered close to 100 and induced waves of incredulity and irritation from the spectators.

Lawrie said he was unfazed by the hullabaloo that accompanies a round with Woods, but shared the public's frustration.

"It didn't cost me any shots but it is difficult, no doubt about that," he said. "It's just surprising how many people are inside the ropes.

"I don't personally agree with it. There are people behind who have paid a lot of money and they're having to tell the media to sit down. It doesn't happen at Augusta."

Walking inside the ropes does, however, offer you the chance to witness exchanges between player and caddie.

"What have we got here, Mick," Rose said to his bagman after pushing his drive into the rough to the right of the 2nd hole.

"158 and 32 on. It should release," said Mick, a piercing through his left eyebrow.

"I'll go six iron."

"I think you can go lower than that. A nice, solid seven. Get it in the air."

"I think six."

"Yep, fine. See your shot and commit yourself."

Rose thrashed a good one out of the long grass and his ball lasered onto the green, only to end up 20ft short. Turns out they were both wrong.

But those expecting Woods to leave his playing partners, particularly the little-credited Lawrie, behind from the off were mistaken.

The threesome were fairly evenly matched, and despite Woods's stunning approach to the third to set up a birdie, an uninitiated observer would have struggled to pick the global superstar among them.

Lawrie conjured his own piece of magic with his approach to the fifth, drawing a cry of "Take that, Tigger" from the gallery, while another watcher said, in a somewhat surprised fashion, that the Scot had "a really nice swing".

Woods (left) with Lawrie (centre) and Rose
Woods (left) did not have it all his own way on day one
It's hard to believe the Scot has not won since the 2002 Wales Open but his Dunhill Links victory in 2001, on top of his Claret Jug, hint at an enviable links pedigree.

But Woods's class showed through on the sixth, with a driver and 207-yard seven iron to 18 feet. As an early signal of intent it was hard to beat.

A three-putt on the short 8th, though, pushed the American back to third in line to tee off, which must have given the two Britons a boost.

Woods's smile could light up a small village - like Carnoustie, for instance - when he's in the mood, but when he's grumpy he's got a face as long as a thoroughbred.

Rose was a touch wayward early on but reached the turn two under, showing the battling qualities that took him to fifth in the Masters and 10th in the US Open.

But his fight ebbed with the tide as he came home in 41, including a double bogey on the last.

As for Woods, he was fortunate on 10 when he received a free drop from TV cables. Normally these are movable, but an official invoked a local rule that said they were immovable.

"It was a weird drop," said Woods, who went on to make par despite gaining a worse lie. "I was as surprised as anyone. I've never seen that ruling before."

Lawrie, meanwhile, fought off bogeys on 14 and 15 to finish with a birdie flourish, showing that his closing 67 to get into the play-off in 1999 was no fluke.

606: DEBATE

"The general feeling was that I didn't get what I deserved, yet again," he said. "I didn't feel I played too badly. Holed my putts and shot two over. That's not a disaster."

Woods's charge was checked by two bogeys on the back nine, but a birdie two on the short 16th brought back a relieved, if slightly ironic, grin to his face.

Lawrie carded 73 and Rose a disappointing 75, but all three players - history seeker, unsung hero and next-big-thing - will know there are plenty of twists and turns to come yet. Just ask Jean Van de Velde.



SEE ALSO
Open Diary
19 Jul 07 |  Golf
The Open day one photos
19 Jul 07 |  Golf
Picking the Open champion
11 Jul 07 |  Golf


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