GULLANE, Scotland — Tiger Woods plodded along most of the day. He lipped out a putt from 2½ feet. He settled for a bunch of pars.
Then, with his final stroke, he looked like the Tiger of old.
Woods rolled in a 15-footer for birdie on Muirfield's tough closing hole Friday, raising his putter toward the blue sky with a flourish, fully aware he was positioned again to break the longest major drought of his career.
"It will be a fun weekend," Wood said. "This golf course is going to be difficult."
He finished with an even-par 71 that looked pretty good under the circumstances. This was another day for surviving the perilous, rock-hard setup, and Woods walked to the clubhouse just three shots behind first-round leader Zach Johnson, one of the last guys to tee off.
Not bad, considering Woods went through a stretch of 12 holes without a birdie before stealing one at the 18th.
"I was kind of fighting it," he said.
Lee Westwood was one of the few morning starters to put up a score in the 60s, but even he was staggering a bit by the end. After a brilliant front nine — he carded five birdies — the 40-year-old Englishman bogeyed three of the last six holes to finish with a 68.
Still, he joined Woods and Henrik Stenson at 2-under 140 overall, solidly in contention for his first major title. The last English golfer to win the British Open was Nick Faldo in 1992.
"Why not enjoy it out there?" Westwood said. "It's tough for everybody. So smile your way through."
Woods is trying to break a drought of his own. He's 0-for-16 at majors since the 2008 U.S. Open, and missed four others during that stretch recovering from injuries.
Whoever wins this one will have to earn it. While the weather has been unseasonably warm and dry, the fearsome wind more of a gentle breeze, there weren't many chances for going low. Not on a tabletop of a course that is more brown than green, with pin conditions that some players complained were downright unfair.
As expected, the conditions toughened in the afternoon as the bright sun firmed up the greens even more. Johnson bogeyed three of the first six holes. Phil Mickelson drove into a bunker at the second and took a double-bogey. Brandt Snedeker doubled the 10th. Rafael Cabrera-Bello did the same at the 14th. At one point, there was a four-way tie for the lead with Johnson, Miguel Angel Jimenez, two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and long-hitting American Dustin Johnson.
The morning was tough for Mark O'Meara, the 1998 Open champion who opened with a surprising 67 that left him one stroke behind Johnson. The course bit back Friday, sending the 56-year-old plunging out of contention. He lost his ball at No. 6, leading to a double-bogey, and stumbled to the finish with a 78.
"It's pretty simple: If you don't hit it good in an Open championship with the rough the way it is out there, you're going to make some bogeys," O'Meara said. "The short game is key. You have to putt well. I did none of those well."
O'Meara wasn't the only old-timer to fall back. Fifty-four-year-old Tom Lehman followed a 68 Thursday with a 77 less than 24 hours later.
The young weren't spared, either.
|Chicago WSox - LP: J. Guerra||2||FINAL|
|Cleveland - WP: B. Shaw||3|
|Pittsburgh - LP: F. Liriano||3||FINAL|
|Cincinnati - WP: J. Cueto||6|
|Miami - LP: B. Hand||1||FINAL|
|NY Mets - WP: J. deGrom||9|
|Washington - WP: T. Roark||10||FINAL|
|Philadelphia - LP: K. Kendrick||3|
|Toronto - LP: R. Dickey||0||FINAL|
|Tampa Bay - WP: D. Price||3|
|St. Louis - LP: C. Martinez||2||FINAL|
|Milwaukee - WP: W. Peralta||11|
|Boston||8||Top 9th Inning|
|Detroit - LP: J. Verlander||2||FINAL|
|Kansas City - WP: Y. Ventura||5|
|Atlanta||10||Top 9th Inning|
|LA Angels||8||Top 6th Inning|
|Arizona||1||Bottom 5th Inning|
|San Diego||0||Bottom 5th Inning|
|Minnesota||5||Bottom 4th Inning|
|Oakland||0||Top 5th Inning|
|NY Yankees - C. Whitley||7:05 PM|
|Baltimore - K. Gausman|
|San Antonio||5:00 PM|