ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Even with a few forays into the dreaded Old Course bunkers, Tiger Woods (search) was right where he expected to be.
Leading the British Open.
Jack Nicklaus' (search) sentimental farewell provided the backdrop Thursday as Woods got off to an even better start than he did five years ago on the way to a record-setting victory at St. Andrews.
Woods put together seven birdies in a stretch of nine holes and finished with a 6-under 66 — even though he put three balls in the sand, leading to his only two bogeys.
"A great start to the tournament," said Woods, who took advantage of a relatively light wind rustling off the North Sea in the morning.
Ditto for Mark Hensby (search), the only player other than Woods and Vijay Singh (search) to finish in the top 10 of the first two majors this year. The Australian shot 67 and made a run at the lead, barely missing 12-foot birdie chances on two of the last three holes.
But Hensby was realistic about his chances against Woods.
"He's not even close to me," Hensby said. "People are scared to say it, but it's true. If he's playing well, we're all playing for second."
In 2000, Woods opened with a 67, made it through all four days without going in a bunker — no small feat on a course with 112 of them — and finished eight shots ahead of everyone else to claim the claret jug.
This time, the world's No. 1 player wrapped up the opening round with a birdie at 18, driving just short of the "Valley of Sin" and getting down with two putts.
Two-timechampion Retief Goosen was part of a big group at 68 that included two-time Masters winner Jose Maria Olazabal and English star Luke Donald.
As for the rest of the "Big Five," Vijay Singh shot 69, but Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson struggled with 74s.
Els, who lost to Todd Hamilton in a playoff last year, had three straight bogeys on the back side. Lefty was 1 under until a triple bogey at 15 sent him tumbling. And the defending champion? Hamilton also shot 74.
Sergio Garcia, still seeking the first major title, closed to one stroke of Woods with back-to-back birdies, only to bogey three of the final six holes. The Spaniard settled for 70.
Woods gladly shared the spotlight with the 65-year-old Nicklaus, playing the final major of his storied career. The Golden Bear started with a flourish, clearing the Swilcan Burn with a short iron on his second shot and rolling in a 4-foot birdie.
It didn't last.
Nicklaus struggled to a 75 and will probably need to improve by at least seven strokes in the second round to put off his last stroll across the Swilcan Bridge.
"I'd like to walk across the bridge Sunday instead of Friday," he said.
As the afternoon turned to evening and a light rain morphed into bright sunshine, Hensby surged into contention. He played the final 10 holes at 5 under, starting with an eagle at No. 9.
Clearly, it's about time to recognize him as more than the guy who once slept in his car while trying to break onto the PGA Tour. Even though he can't keep up with the big hitters, the Aussie tied for fifth at the Masters and third at the U.S. Open.
Hensby relies heavily on the advice of caddie Mike Carrick, a former looper for Tom Kite.
"He told me if I treat the majors like any other event, I would do better," Hensby said. "He told me that Tom used to practice so hard for the majors. He should have won six or seven, but he always tried too hard."
Goosen bounced back from his meltdown three weeks ago at Pinehurst, where he shot 81 after entering the final day of the U.S. Open with a three-shot lead.
"Pinehurst is pretty much history," he said. "I wasn't thinking about it at all."
The mood turned somber at noon, when St. Andrews joined the rest of the country in observing two minutes of silence to honor the victims of last week's terrorist attacks in London.
At least 52 people were killed and hundreds injured when bombs went off in three subway trains and a double-decker bus.
An airhorn signaled the brief suspension of play. Woods took off his hat, closed his eyes and bowed his head at the 14th hole. Afterward, he revealed that his mother was in London when the blasts went off.
"I'm very thankful that my mom is still here," he said.
Five years ago at St. Andrews, Woods set a major championship record at 19-under 269, running away with his first Open title and going on to an unprecedented "Tiger Slam" — four straight major titles, though not all in the same calendar year.
Another ominous sign for the rest of the field: When Nicklaus said goodbye to the other three majors — the 1999, the 2000 U.S. Open, this year's Masters — Woods won each time.
"If I did come out on top," Woods said, "that would be very special."
The Masters victory was followed by a runner-up finish to Michael Campbell at the U.S. Open three weeks ago. Campbell was in contention with a 69.
While acknowledging beforehand that his chances of winning were nil, Nicklaus hoped to at least make the cut in the final major of his career.
It wasn't looking good after three straight bogeys on the back side. When Nicklaus missed a 5-footer at the 13th, he bent over and dropped his putter in anguish.
But there was plenty of sentimentality and emotion in what was basically a Nicklaus family reunion. One son, Steve, handled the caddie duties, while wife Barbara, sons Gary and Jackie, and daughter Nan were part of the gallery.
"He's just so special, isn't he?" a British fan said while watching Nicklaus at the first hole. "In every respect."