-- HOYLAKE, England -- Tiger Woods headed to the practice range after his opening round of the Open Championship, as much a positive sign as his 3-under-par 69 at Royal Liverpool.
Woods hit his first shots in a major championship in 2014 and saw his name inch onto the leaderboard with a six-birdie, three-bogey effort to trail early leader Rory McIlroy by three strokes.
Perhaps even better, Woods again showed no ill effects from the March 31 back surgery that caused him to miss the first two major championships this year.
"I knew I could do it," Woods said. "That's why I was telling you guys it was so important for me to play at Congressional. The fact that I was able to recover every day, and the fact that I was stronger, more explosive the more days I played.
"I'm only going to get better from that point. And I'm getting stronger, I'm getting faster, I'm getting more explosive. The ball is starting to travel again. And those are all positive things."
Woods' two rounds of 74 and 75 at the Quicken Loans National last month showed plenty of rust, but playing in that tournament undoubtedly helped him shake some of the first-tee jitters on Thursday.
Nonetheless, on a near perfect day under sunny skies and with little wind at the start of his round, Woods opened with consecutive bogeys, a sloppy three-putt on the second hole meaning an ominous beginning.
He made a big save for par at the fourth hole, an eight-footer after another poor putt, and that seemed to settle him down as he birdied the fifth and played the first nine in 1-over 36.
Woods failed to birdie the par-5 10th, but holed a putt from off the green for a birdie at the 11th, the start of four birdies in five holes. A bogey at the 14th was the result of one of the four fairways he missed, but he rebounded to birdie the next two.
An opportunity to get another at the par-5 18th was derailed by an approach shot into a greenside pot bunker that left Woods with an awkward stance. Prior to the shot, he stopped in mid-swing due to the sound of cameras clicking.
"I've had numerous years of dealing with this," Woods said. "There's a lot of moving parts out there. And you've just got to stay focused and plod my way around."
Woods did a good job of that. He said he wasn't nervous, that playing at Congressional helped him get some of that out of the way.
If anything, Woods was perturbed he didn't do better. When asked if it was like the old days, Woods quipped: "It wasn't that long ago. I won five times last year."
Hitting mostly irons off of tees -- he did use a driver on the 16th hole just as he did during his 2006 victory here, the only one he used for the tournament -- Woods hit 10 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens.
Although he recently questioned the swing changes Woods has made over the years, ESPN analyst Paul Azinger said on the air Thursday that there were a number of good signs.
"He's been pin high all day (with his approaches)," Azinger said. "It's been a pleasure to watch."
But there is plenty to work on, Woods said.
"Pretty much everything," he said. "I need to get everything a little bit better. That's the case all of time, anyways. But at Congressional, I made just some terrible mistakes mentally. My decisions weren't very crisp and I wasn't decisive enough. Today was totally different. And consequently I shot a better score."
When Woods finished, he was tied for eighth with six other players and trailed McIlroy (66), Matteo Manassero (67), Brooks Koepka, Edoardo Molinari, Francesco Molinari, Jim Furyk and Sergio Garcia (68).