HOYLAKE, England (AP) — On a day when Tiger Woods returned to the majors, there was an Italian flair to the British Open leaderboard.
Matteo Manassero took advantage of prime scoring conditions to shoot a 5-under 67 at Royal Liverpool, while brothers Edoardo and Francesco Molinari opened with matching 68s on Thursday.
"I saw the leaderboard," said Francesco, the younger of the siblings. "But it's a tough course, so you have to focus on what you are doing rather than the others are doing — even if it's your brother. "
Playing in his first major championship since back surgery, Woods got off to a shaky start with bogeys at the first two holes.
Then he settled down, looking more like the player who romped to victory the last time golf's oldest major was held at this course along the Irish Sea.
There were plenty of red numbers on a day made for going low — warm and sunny with only a slight breeze rippling the flags. Woods was among them, pushing his score to 2 under with a stretch of four birdies in five holes on the back side.
Manassero made only one bogey and shot 4-under 33 after the turn, taking advantage of a quirk in the course which puts three par-5s in the closing nine. He birdied them all.
Two-time major champion Rory McIlroy got off to another strong start, his score at 5 under and two of the par-5s still to play. Now the challenge is to hold it together on Friday, which has been a problem all year. McIlroy's cumulative score in the second round is 15 over.
Jim Furyk and Brooks Koepka also opened with 68s. Sweden's Robert Karlsson, Marc Leishman of Australia and Japan's Koumei Oda were another shot back after shooting 69.
"I didn't play fantastic, but the course is out there to make some birdies on," said Karlsson, who teed off in the first group of the day at 6:25 a.m.
He described the breeze as "tricky," but acknowledged it wasn't much of a defense against those going out in the morning.
"I'll take this tricky," Karlsson said.
After his opening shot settled safely in the fairway, Woods ran into trouble when his next swing sent the ball into one of the treacherous pot bunkers. His wedge out of the sand scooted through the green and led to bogey. At No. 2, the three-time Open champion knocked a long putt about 6 feet past the hole, then missed the comebacker to take his score to 2 over.
Woods took advantage of the only par-5 on the front side for his first birdie. Then, the 14-time major winner rolled in a long putt from the fringe of the green at No. 11 for another, which sparked a run of three straight birdies. After another bogey at the 14th, set up by an errant tee shot into the hay, Woods bounced back with another birdie at the next hole.
For the early starters, it couldn't have been better day for scoring. Unlike 2006, when Woods won on dry, fiery course that made the grass more brown than green, Royal Liverpool was lush and relatively soft after intermittent rain on Wednesday.
Woods has gone six years without a major title and this is his first Grand Slam event of 2014, his season interrupted by back surgery on March 31. He missed the Masters for the first time, and then the U.S. Open, before returning three weeks ago at Congressional. He missed the cut by four shots, though he was happy that he felt no pain.
Woods' threesome included Sweden's Henrik Stenson, who is among four players with a shot at replacing Adam Scott at No. 1 in the world if he wins. The others are Justin Rose, Bubba Watson and Jason Day.
Woods was No. 1 when he took three months off to heal his back. Now he's seventh.
The last three Open champions have all been in their early 40s. Koepka, a 24-year-old American who began his pro career in Europe, wants to end that streak.
"I hope someone in their 20s wins," he said. "I hope it's me."
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