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Garcia, McIlroy Among Early Leaders At British Open, But All Eyes On The Tiger

  • Sergio Garcia of Spain holds up his ball after putting out on the 13th hole during the first day of the British Open Golf championship at the Royal Liverpool golf club, Hoylake, England, Thursday July 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)

    Sergio Garcia of Spain holds up his ball after putting out on the 13th hole during the first day of the British Open Golf championship at the Royal Liverpool golf club, Hoylake, England, Thursday July 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)

  • John Senden of Australia plays out of the bunker onto the 6th green during a practice round ahead of the British Open Golf championship at the Royal Liverpool golf club, Hoylake, England, Wednesday July 16, 2014. The British Open Golf championship starts Thursday July 17.

    John Senden of Australia plays out of the bunker onto the 6th green during a practice round ahead of the British Open Golf championship at the Royal Liverpool golf club, Hoylake, England, Wednesday July 16, 2014. The British Open Golf championship starts Thursday July 17.  (AP2014)

The last time Sergio Garcia played the British Open at Royal Liverpool in 2006, he was one stroke off the lead after three rounds and played in the final group with Tiger Woods.

Woods, wearing his traditional Sunday red shirt, shot 65 to win by two strokes. Garcia, dressed from head to toe in yellow, shot a 73 and finished tied for fifth, seven strokes behind.

It was another British Open disappointment for the Spaniard: Five times he's gone into the final round of the Open within three shots or better of the lead, including his three-shot lead at Carnoustie in 2007.

On Thursday during the first round of this year's British Open, Garcia opened with a 4-under 68, two strokes behind early leader Rory McIlroy, and still in search of that elusive first win in a major.

Elsewhere at Royal Liverpool, Dawie Van Der Walt of South Africa was off to a memorable start in his Open debut. After dropping a shot on the second hole, he made an eagle on No. 5, the first of four par 5s that players face on this links. Van Der Walt added a birdie on the eighth and was approaching the turn at 2-under par.

Mark Leishman of Australia, Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand and Edoardo Molinari of Italy also were at 2 under in the early stages of their rounds. Brooks Koepka had only one par through five holes — he played the others with three birdies and a double bogey, and the American was at 1 under.

Five-time Open champion Tom Watson began his 37th Open with a birdie on the first hole.

The conditions could not have been better for scoring for the early starters. The temperature was mild, the wind was barely a breeze, and the golf course was relatively soft after intermittent rain on Wednesday.

Woods had an early tee time, and there was great curiosity with the 14-time major champion.

Woods won at Hoylake eight years ago in dry, fiery conditions that made the grass more brown than green. That was his third Open title. And that seems like a long time ago. Not only has Woods gone six years without a major, he is playing in a Grand Slam event for the first time this year.

Woods had back surgery on March 31 and missed the Masters for the first time, and then the U.S. Open. He returned three weeks ago at Congressional and missed the cut by four shots, though he was happy that he felt no pain.

Woods was playing with Henrik Stenson and Angel Cabrera.

Stenson is among three players who can replace Adam Scott at No. 1 in the world this week by winning. The others are Justin Rose, Bubba Watson and Jason Day. Woods was No. 1 when he took three months off to heal his back. He now is No. 7.

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