The usual crowd support saw an unusual score for Woods

PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — The excitement that typically surrounds Tiger Woods brought out even the hired help near the fourth hole at Royal Portrush.

Those folks couldn’t help his sore back, or his soaring score at the British Open.

The Masters champion, a three-time winner on the links courses of the only major in Europe, shot a 7-over-par 78 on Thursday, his highest first-round score at the tournament and third-highest opening at any of the four majors.

That Masters victory in April is quickly turning into a memory as Woods struggles to find the balance between playing and making sure his back is healthy. He has played only 10 rounds since Augusta National and hasn’t played since the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in June.

Woods three-putted for bogey on No. 5, bladed a chip on No. 6 for a double-bogey and stretched his arms in mock triumph when he finally made a birdie , his only one, on No. 15.

“Playing at this elite level is a completely different deal,” said Woods, wearing black rain pants and a gray sweater on a day of sometimes wet and windy weather. “You’ve got to be spot on. These guys are too good. There are too many guys that are playing well and I’m just not one of them. …

“I hit a lot of missed shots. They were all left. Wasn’t hitting it solid. Everything was off the heel.”

Woods started the day with the usual cheers and howls as he stepped to the first tee. They followed him through an opening shot that went left, but he ended up safely making par. A kid in a tiger-suit onesie smiled broadly as Woods headed for the second tee.

The shouts and screams followed the 15-time major winner for the next few holes as Woods held it together, even saving par out of a bunker on No. 2.

Then came No. 4, a long par-4 along the right side of the course heading toward the North Atlantic coast. On the right is out of bounds, where there sits a private home. From the house ran a young woman wearing a uniform and an apron, excitedly jumping up and down with her phone at the ready to snap some shots. Woods obliged with a fourth straight par, but it was the last for quite some time.

He racked up six extra shots over those next six holes, getting only one par along the way.

“I’m just not moving as well as I’d like. And unfortunately, you’ve got to be able to move, and especially under these conditions, shape the golf ball. And I didn’t do it,” Woods said. “I didn’t shape the golf ball at all. Everything was left-to-right. And wasn’t hitting very solidly.”

Chris Lehourites is an Associated Press writer.

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