Tiger Woods has extra pressure on him every time he plays in a major championship.
He is still trying to chase down Jack Nicklaus, who had 18 major tournament victories in his career. Woods currently has 14, but he has been holding at that total for the last five years.
Woods is a top front-runner at the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield, and he likes to play with the lead. He may not be out front after 18 holes, but his opening round 69 was impressive nonetheless.
Woods did not get off to a good start when he duck-hooked his opening drive. However, by the time he got to the first green, he made a saving bogey with his putter. If he had not made that tricky putt, he would have had a disastrous opening hole.
He made a nice birdie putt on the par-three fourth hole, but it was his bogey putt on the sixth hole that indicated he was really on with his putter. It wasn't a tricky putt, but it was 10 feet, and Woods struck it with confidence and rolled it in.
The back nine saw him make three birdies on the first four holes, but he bogeyed the 14th when he knocked his first putt over the green.
He had a difficult par putt on the 18th, but he rammed that puck straight into the back of the cup, and that allowed him to close his round on a confident note.
After an awful start on the first hole, Woods hit the ball quite well off the tee on a majority of his shots.
He did not have to use his driver on the links course, but he struck his 3-metal with confidence and power throughout the round. He hit 10 of 14 fairways with his initial shot.
He hit a perfect drive on the 448-yard 15th after he made a saving putt on the 14th. Woods was spinning his club in familiar fashion whenever he hit a good shot, and he hit many of them off the tee throughout the first round.
The difficult pin placements may have caused several golfers to complain about Muirfield—including Phil Mickelson—but Woods seemed to know how to play the course and execute his game plan.
He had some problems with the hard greens, as did nearly every other golfer, but Woods seemed to play most of the round with full confidence—because he knew what to expect from the course.
Course management has regularly been one of Woods' greatest strengths, but execution has not always been as good as his vision. In this round, the execution was solid but not spectacular.
Woods was struggling with the sun-baked fairways, but it had less to do with his stroke, and more to do with the sand and dust constantly flying back in his face after striking the ball.
However, he hit the ball firmly and confidently with his irons. Two of his best iron shots came on the 575-yard, par-five 17th hole. He hit back-to-back irons and reached the green in two. While he did not make his eagle putt, he made a tap-in for his birdie.
His iron play was sharp and confident. Woods hit 12 of the 18 greens in regulation, which was excellent considering how hard both the fairways and greens played.
This has always been the strength of Woods' game when he has been at or near his best.
Woods has the outlook of a champion, and he plays with tremendous confidence and know-how. That was the case in the opening round.
It's not that Woods didn't show his disappointment when he hit a poor shot, but never let his last shot impact his next shot. He let it go.
That was never more evident than on the 12th hole, when he had an awkward lie out of a greenside bunker that forced him to put his right foot in the hazard while his left leg was bent on the ground in an L-position. Woods blasted a sensational shot out of the bunker, which allowed him to make a par on that hole.
There was a sense of calm about Woods' opening round of the 2013 Open Championship. He had five birdies and three bogeys for a two-under par 69 in the opening round.
While he made some mistakes along the way, perhaps the most encouraging aspect of his round was that he kept his emotions in check throughout. That bodes well for the rest of the tournament.
Woods would have loved to have been at the top after the first 18 holes, but he is close enough to leader Zach Johnson that he should be able to sleep well.
Because he avoided key mistakes and made some clutch shots on Thursday, Woods knows he has a legitimate chance to earn his 15th major this weekend.