- Associated Press - Thursday, July 19, 2012

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, ENGLAND (AP) - Tiger Woods hit every tee shot exactly where he was looking, needed only eight putts through seven holes and reached 4-under par to quickly get his name atop the leaderboard Thursday in the British Open.

It looked like he was just getting started.

Instead, he stalled.

On as easy a day as Royal Lytham & St. Annes can provide _ soft fairways and greens, little evidence of wind _ Woods had to settle for a 3-under 67 that left him three shots behind Adam Scott.

Woods looked like he was capable of running away from the field with those four early birdies to take the lead. He narrowly missed a 10-foot birdie putt on the par-3 ninth hole for a 29, which would have been his lowest nine-hole start in any major.

“We knew that we needed at least to get off to a quick start on that front nine, and I figured a couple under would have been good,” Woods said. “But I look up on the board and Scotty is going pretty low, and so is everyone else. I felt I had to make a few more, and I was able to.”

He covered the flag with his tee shot on the par-3 12th hole, leaving himself 12 feet below the hole. But when he walked onto the green, he saw a leaderboard packed with names. His was not at the top, rather somewhere in the middle. Scott already was at 6 under and challenging the major championship record of 63. Bubba Watson, Graeme McDowell and Zach Johnson, all of them major champions, also were at 4 under with plenty of birdie holes ahead of them.

Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but what followed was Woods‘ worst putt of the round.

That’s when Woods shifted into neutral. He gave himself reasonable chances, and kept leaving putts short.

“I was just lacking a little bit of pace on the greens coming home,” he said.

One of the best shots he hit all day kept was on the only hole where he failed to make par _ and it saved him from a much higher score.

Woods worked out a game plan that looked similar to what he used at Hoylake five years ago when he last won the British Open. He rarely hit driver off the tee in an effort to avoid bunkers, only this was different. Royal Lytham’s bunkers are staggered in the fairway, and they are everywhere. Woods didn’t just stay short of them, he navigated his way expertly through them.

He hit a driver on No. 2 and a 5-wood on No. 10 that started left and over the heads of the spectators, only to curve gently back to the right and into a perfect spot. He appeared to be in complete control off the tee, which is pivotal for any good round at Lytham.

The exception came on the 15th.

Woods pulled his iron into the rough, the ball nestled at the bottom of 18-inch grass that had been trampled by footsteps and cables. He tossed aside the cable and some television equipment and tried to hammer a wedge some 60 yards over a pot bunker he couldn’t see.

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