Tiger no longer has fear factor
It used to be that if Tiger Woods was in striking distance at a major, everyone would be looking over their shoulders. Not any more.
TROON, Scotland -- For the first time in seven major championships, Tiger Woods broke par during the opening round. But you don't exactly get the feeling that those he is chasing are shaking with anxiety.
Not any more.
Not since eight different players won major championships in the time following his last at the 2002 U.S. Open. Not since he was overtaken for the PGA Tour money title last year. Not since five players already have multiple victories to his one this year.
"There were times," said Justin Leonard, "when you'd look up on the leaderboard and say, 'Uh-oh, here he comes.' And all of a sudden, there he went."
Woods' 70 on Thursday at Royal Troon was in no way a bad score. It put him in position to challenge for the Claret Jug, and it's better than some of the performances -- such as last month's U.S. Open, where an opening round 72 led to a T-17 finish -- that seemingly put him too far behind after just 18 holes.
But it didn't exactly inspire anyone to believe that Woods is ready to re-emerge as the dominating force that saw him win seven of 11 major championships between 1999 and 2002 -- a stretch that might one day be remembered as one of the greatest in sports history.
Now, Woods is like a lot of golfers, not quite sure what the next day will bring. He got to 2 under par during his round, gave it back with consecutive bogeys at the 12th and 13th holes, then birdied the 16th to get 1 under.
As has been the case, Woods missed his share of fairways, hitting eight of 14. He did hit 13 of 18 greens in regulation, but needed 31 putts.
Some two dozen names are ahead of him on the leaderboard.
"I played really well today," Woods said. "I hit a lot of good shots and lost a couple of shots on the front nine that I probably should have kept while I was going. but overall, this was a good day."
And that's sort of Woods' standard spiel these days. Nobody doubts that he will win again, that he will claim multiple majors. But for now, the fear factor is gone.
Woods' game has dropped, while others have picked up theirs. Vijay Singh, who shot 68, and Ernie Els, who shot 69, are among players who have challenged Woods' No. 1 ranking. Retief Goosen, the only player since 1999 other than Woods to win two majors, shot 69.
"I think what happened, is that the other players realized that if we're going to start competing against this guy, we're going to have to tighten up our games," Nick Price said.
Phil Mickelson won his first major this year at the Masters and has two victories. Sergio Garcia has two wins on the PGA Tour, as does Adam Scott. More players are winning and gaining confidence.
"It's going to take awhile for that invincibility to build up again," Price said. "The way that he's played, he's certainly let a lot of people catch up to him. Or go past him, however you want to look at it."
Some used to marvel at the breaks Woods got, especially concerning the draw. He might go out early, shoot a good score, then see the weather turn bad.
That was set up against him Thursday when he teed off in the early afternoon. It could have got ugly, but didn't.
Like Woods said, "This is as good as it gets. This is ideal scoring conditions out here. You look at the leaderboard, a lot of guys shot good numbers today." Woods tees off Friday morning, before the weather is supposed to turn. Maybe he gets off the hot start, then watches everybody else wither as the wind whips in off the Firth of Clyde.
"The forecasters here aren't as accurate as they probably could be," Woods said. "Today was supposed to be blowing and it ended up being probably one of the best days you'll ever see in a British Open."
The kind of day where Woods used to take advantage and go low, crushing the hopes of others.
Now, he's still No. 1, but just another player in the pack.
Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times, and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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