Tiger Woods was left in an unfamiliar position at St Andrews today after being joined by Rory McIlroy in golf’s “63 Club.”
Woods, who equalled the major championship record round himself at the US PGA three years ago, has led after each of the last seven rounds of The Open at the Home of Golf.
This time, in his first tournament in Britain since his sex scandal, the world number one has four strokes to make up on the Irishman.
But the fact that it is “only” four with 54 holes to play means Woods still represents a real danger.
Asked what advice he would give 21-year-old McIlroy now he said: “Just keep doing what he’s doing.
“Obviously he’s doing what he needs to do and he’s got a long way to go. He knows how to win golf tournaments and he’ll be fine.
“It’s a pretty impressive round no doubt. Rory kept it going – he played well through ’The Loop’, but he also finished it off well even when the wind started picking up.”
Because of the slow greens this week, Woods took out of his bag the putter with which he has won 13 of his 14 majors, including the last two Opens at St Andrews by eight and five shots.
He is clearly prepared to give the new blade a chance.
After three-putting the 17th for bogey and then doing the same from the Valley of Sin on the last – for par – he still stated: “I’m very pleased with it.
“As I said, it comes off faster and these greens are just the slowest I’ve seen in a long time, if ever, and especially with the moisture they have out there.
“Today felt awkward because there was absolutely no wind whatsoever and you never play a links golf course with no wind.
“With the conditions you had to go get it – you had to take advantage of it.
“I felt like I did a pretty good job of that today and I let the round mature.
“We all saw was Rory was doing, what JD (John Daly) was doing – it just goes to show you that the golf course could have been had. To be in the top 10 you had to be five under – you don’t see that at too many majors.
“We’ve got three more rounds. I’m in good shape. As of right now we’re on the good side of the draw, but you don’t know tomorrow.”
This is only the seventh tournament Woods has played since taking four months off to deal with the fall-out from his private life.
He has had fourth places finishes in both The Masters – his first event back - and US Open, but nothing better in his other starts.
On his swing he commented: “It’s getting better every week. Every week I’m playing, the things I’ve been working on have been starting to come together.
“I’m hitting shots that I haven’t hit in a long time. It’s building.”
As for the crowd’s reaction to him throughout the day, he was delighted.
“They’ve always been respectful and enthusiastic here. There’s no reason it would be any different – they were great out there today.
“They were just enthusiastic – we were making a bunch of birdies, so they had a lot to cheer about.”
Woods was playing with Justin Rose and Camilo Villegas. Rose, winner of two of his last three events in the States, birdied the first two, but failed to build on that and signed for a 70, while Villegas had three birdies in four holes around the turn and shot 68.
A 12-footer at the second gave Woods his first birdie and after picking up further shots on the seventh and ninth for an outward 33 he haad three more in a row from the 12th.
But at the treacherous 17th – a hole he played in two over when he finished at a record 18 under in 2000 and one over when he was 14 under in 2005 – he missed the fairway, could not get his second close and paid the price.