The major championships are usually grinds, but for anyone playing in the afternoon Thursday the first round of the British Open proved more of a test than ever. The wind was blowing harder than expected, the golf course was drying up by the minute, and anything around par was a score to be respected.
And there was Woods, feeling awfully good about a 2-under 69 that had to give him hope his five-year drought in the major championships might come to an end this week on a golf course playing like it is in the middle of a drought.
"It was tough," Woods said. "The golf course progressively got more dried out and more difficult as we played. I'm very pleased to shoot anything even par or better."
A day that began with a near catastrophe off the first tee ended with a six-footer that found the center of the cup on the 18th green. Hardly surprising since Woods had 10 one-putts as he scrambled his way around the links course for one of the better scores of the afternoon.
He was three shots off the lead set by Zach Johnson, who was part of a morning surge of players who took advantage of easier conditions to set the pace. More importantly, perhaps, Woods has a morning tee time of his own Friday on a course that at least for the first day was set up to favor the early players.
"The guys that played early had a huge, huge break," Phil Mickelson said after shooting a 69 himself in the morning. "Because even without any wind, it's beyond difficult."
That Woods managed to break 70 in the afternoon was impressive enough. That he did it after nearly snap hooking a 3-wood out of bounds on his opening tee shot and having to take an unplayable when the ball nestled in a deep clump of unruly grass was doubly so.
"When I got over that tee shot I was (thinking), if I hammer it, this 3-wood is in that bunker," Woods said. "So maybe I should take something off it. Maybe I should hit 5-wood. Hence I hit a flip hook left and there she goes."
Woods somehow managed to make a bogey five on the first hole even with a penalty shot by hitting his third into a greenside bunker and getting up-and-down. It set the pattern for a day of one-putts that not only prevented the round from getting away from him, but put him in prime position going into the second round.
"We're supposed to get a different wind tomorrow," Woods said. "It will be interesting to see what the course setup is."
Just how tough was Muirfield in the afternoon? So tough that the threesome Woods was playing in became a twosome when former champion Louis Oosthuizen withdrew on the ninth hole with an apparent injury after going 4-over-par through eight holes.
So tough that his other playing partner, Graeme McDowell made two double bogeys and shot a 75 despite feeling he played well.
So tough that Woods was 1-over at the turn before one-putting the next four holes to spark a 3-under 32 on the back nine.
"Tiger played phenomenally well for his 2-under par," McDowell said. "Really ground it out well, did what he did best."
Playing well early in majors hasn't been the issue for Woods in recent times, though. Closing it out on the weekend has been, the main reason why he's still stuck at 14 major championships and hasn't won one since beating Rocco Mediate on one leg in the 2008 U.S. Open.
Last year he opened the British with a pair of 67s only to fade to a tie for third place behind Ernie Els. This year he was in the mix at the U.S. Open before shooting 76-74 on the weekend.
He came here well rested and healed up from a strained elbow that was acting up at the U.S. Open, his last competitive event. He also came with the knowledge gained from years of playing links style golf on this side of the pond, including his two wins at St. Andrews and his other win at Hoylake near Liverpool.
"They're so different, so different," Woods said. "I mean, this is almost - it's about as fast as Hoylake was. But there's knee-high rough here. And plus this golf course changes directions a lot. This is a totally different setup."
Not so different, though, that Woods doesn't like his chances of winning a fourth claret jug.
A man who was convicted of killing five members of a central Illinois family is set to be sentenced. Christopher Harris is scheduled to be sentenced this afternoon for five counts of first-degree murder. He faces a mandatory life sentence. The 34-year-old used a tire iron to kill five members of his ex-wife's family in 2009 in Beason, Illinois. He admitted killing 14-year-old Dillen Constant, but Harris' lawyers said he only did so after the teenager killed the rest of the family. Harris was also convicted of killing Dillen's mother, his stepfather, his 16-year-old sister, and 11-year-old stepbrother. The community of Beason is about 45 miles northeast of Springfield.
Not that it was bothering Lee Westwood.
The 40-year-old Englishman surged up the leaderboard at the British Open on Friday, putting up a blistering 5-under 31 on the front side to climb within one shot of first-round leader Zach Johnson.
Westwood, who opened with a 1-over 72, started the second round with two straight birdies to get into the red numbers. He also birdied the eighth, and took advantage of both par-5s to push his overall score to 4 under.
The last English golfer to win the British Open was Nick Faldo in 1992.
Tiger Woods was trying to break a drought of his own. The most recent of his 14 major titles came at the 2008 U.S. Open, but he's 0-for-20 since then. Despite taking a bogey at the fourth, where he lipped out a 2 1/2-foot putt, he approached the turn still even on the day, 2 under for the tournament and solidly in the hunt to get his name on the claret jug for the fourth time.
The weather has been unseasonably warm and dry, the fearsome wind not much more than a gentle breeze, and it was expected to stay that way through the weekend. Even so, there weren't many chances for going low, not on a course that is more brown than green, with pin conditions that some players complained were downright unfair.
Even though he opened with a 2-under 69, Phil Mickelson was concerned about some hole locations being too close to the edge of slopes. He pleaded with the Royal & Ancient to let go of its ego and "just set the course up the way the best players can win."
Mark O'Meara, the 1998 Open champion, countered that he's played in much tougher conditions, perhaps emboldened by a surprising 67 that left him just one stroke behind Johnson. But the course bit back on Friday, sending the 56-year-old tumbling out of contention. He lost his ball at No. 6, leading to a double-bogey, and staggered to the finish with a 78.
Jordan Spieth also felt Muirfield's bite. The 19-year-old, who last weekend became the PGA Tour's youngest winner since 1931, made only two bogeys through his first 32 holes and was 3 under. Then, a double-bogey at the 15th, followed by a bogey at No. 16.
Just like that, the youngster was back to even par.
Then there was Darren Clarke, the surprise Open champion in 2011 but mostly an afterthought since then. The Northern Irishman made four birdies on the front side. Unfortunately for him, all that good work was wiped out by one bad hole - a quadruple-bogey 8 at the sixth.
Johnson, who had an afternoon tee time, had not been atop the leaderboard at any major since he rallied to win the Masters six years ago. He took advantage of kinder conditions Thursday morning to shoot a 66, helped along by a 45-foot eagle putt. He made only one bogey despite trouble lurking around every pot bunker.
"Anytime you shoot under par in an Open - or a major, for that matter - you have to be putting at least somewhat decent," said Johnson, who lost to Spieth in a playoff at the John Deere Classic after making bogey on the 72nd hole. "And I putted great. I made some nice birdie putts and obviously that one for eagle. But I struck some really nice, solid par putts. That's what you've got to do to stay in it."
It was an eclectic group setting the early pace, from major champions to players making their British Open debut. What they all had in common was finding a way to get through a firm, fast and frightening setup that figures to get even harder if the R&A doesn't put some water on the course.
"I haven't seen anything like this," said Brandt Snedeker, among those who opened with a 68. "This is completely new to me - foreign to see a 2-iron going 300 yards. You have got to be wary of how you're shaping your golf ball, and what shot selections you're using on the greens."
Snedeker could find things even tougher on Friday, when he was set to tee off in the afternoon. Rafael Cabrera-Bello (67), Miguel Angel Jimenez (68) and Dustin Johnson (68) also had later start times.
As for Rory McIlroy, it doesn't seem to matter when he plays. He struggled to a 79 in the opening round, his highest score at the Open since that 80 in the vicious wind of St. Andrews in 2010. The former world No. 1 has been in a baffling slump since his runaway victory at last year's PGA Championship, and it looked as though he'll be spending another weekend at home.
At least he had some company.
Luke Donald, another former No. 1 player in the world, shot 80. Faldo celebrated his 56th birthday with a 79 on the links where he won two of his three claret jugs.
Ninety-eight players in the 156-man field had at least a double-bogey on their scorecards after Day 1. Former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover might have summed it up best when he took to Twitter after opening with an 80.
"Muirfield 1, Me 0." ---
But by Thursday, the once-mighty symbol of the nation's manufacturing strength had fallen into financial ruin, becoming the biggest U.S. city ever to file for bankruptcy — the result of a long, slow decline in population and auto manufacturing.
Although the filing had been feared for months, the path that lay ahead was still uncertain. Bankruptcy could mean laying off employees, selling off assets, raising fees and scaling back basic services such as trash collection and snow plowing, which have already been slashed.
Kevin Frederick, an admissions representative for a local career training school, called the step "an embarrassment."
"I guess we have to take a couple of steps backward to move forward," Frederick said.
Now city and state leaders must confront the challenge of rebuilding Detroit's broken budget in as little as a year.
Kevyn Orr, a bankruptcy expert hired by the state in March to stop Detroit's fiscal free-fall, said Detroit would continue to pay its bills and employees.
But, said Michael Sweet, a bankruptcy attorney in Fox-Rothschild's San Francisco office, "they don't have to pay anyone they don't want to. And no one can sue them."
The city's woes have piled up for generations. In the 1950s, its population grew to 1.8 million people, many of whom were lured by plentiful, well-paying auto jobs. Later that decade, Detroit began to decline as developers started building suburbs that lured away workers and businesses.
Then beginning in the late 1960s, auto companies began opening plants in other cities. Property values and tax revenue fell, and police couldn't control crime. In later years, the rise of autos imported from Japan started to cut the size of the U.S. auto industry.
By the time the auto industry melted down in 2009, only a few factories from GM and Chrysler were left. GM is the only one with headquarters in Detroit, though it has huge research and testing centers with thousands of jobs outside the city.
Detroit lost a quarter-million residents between 2000 and 2010. Today, the population struggles to stay above 700,000.
The result is a metropolis where whole neighborhoods are practically deserted and basic services cut off in places. Looming over the crumbling landscape is a budget deficit believed to be more than $380 million and long-term debt that could be as much as $20 billion.
In recent months, the city has relied on state-backed bond money to meet payroll for its 10,000 employees.
Orr made the filing in federal bankruptcy court under Chapter 9, the bankruptcy system for cities and counties.
He was unable to persuade a host of creditors, unions and pension boards to take pennies on the dollar to help with the city's massive financial restructuring. If the bankruptcy filing is approved, city assets could be liquidated to satisfy demands for payment.
Orr said Thursday that he "bent over backward" to work with creditors, rejecting criticism that he was too rigid. "Anybody who takes that position just hasn't been listening."
The bankruptcy could last through summer or fall 2014, which coincides with the end of Orr's 18-month appointment, he said.
Gov. Rick Snyder, who called bankruptcy the "one feasible path," determined earlier this year that Detroit was in a financial emergency and without a plan for improvement. He made it the largest U.S. city to fall under state oversight when a state loan board hired Orr.
Creditors and public servants "deserve to know what promises the city can and will keep," Snyder wrote in a letter that was part of the filing. "The only way to do those things is to radically restructure the city and allow it to reinvent itself without the burden of impossible obligations."
A turnaround specialist, Orr represented automaker Chrysler LLC during its successful restructuring. He issued a warning early on in his tenure in Detroit that bankruptcy was a road he preferred to avoid.
Some city workers and retirement systems filed lawsuits to prevent Snyder from approving Orr's bankruptcy request, said Detroit-area turnaround specialist James McTevia.
They have argued that bankruptcy could change pension and retiree benefits, which are guaranteed under state law.
Others are concerned that a bankrupt Detroit will cause businesses large and small to reconsider their operations in the city. But General Motors does not anticipate any impact to its daily operations, the automaker said Thursday in a statement.
Detroit has more than double the population of the Northern California community of Stockton, Calif., which until Detroit had been the largest U.S. city ever to file for bankruptcy when it did so in June 2012.
Before Detroit, the largest municipal bankruptcy filing had involved Jefferson County, Ala., which was more than $4 billion in debt when it filed in 2011. Another recent city to have filed for bankruptcy was San Bernardino, Calif., which took that route in August 2012 after learning it had a $46 million deficit.