British Open underway with all eyes on Tiger

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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. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

HOYLAKE, England (AP) — The British Open began Thursday with birdies and bogeys all across Royal Liverpool, and all eyes on the return of Tiger Woods.

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.