GULLANE, Scotland (by Paul Newberry, AP) — Tiger Woods is the favorite. No surprise there. Now, can he finally win another major title?
Heading into the British Open at Muirfield, the world’s top-ranked player is mired in the longest drought of his career in golf’s premier events, a stretch of 20 tournaments going back to the 2008 U.S. Open.
‘‘I feel very good about my game,’’ Woods said this week. ‘‘Even though I haven’t won a major championship in five years, I’ve been there in a bunch of them where I’ve had chances. I just need to keep putting myself there and eventually I’ll get some.’’
The tournament began early Thursday with the sun poking through big, puffy clouds along the Scottish coast. The forecast hardly seemed fitting for a British Open: mostly sunny with temperatures climbing into the mid-70s.
The wind — always the main line of defense for a links course — will largely determine how tough the course plays, but early on conditions seemed ripe for going low.
Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez sure took advantage. The Mechanic birdied five holes on the front side, capped by an up-and-down for birdie out of the sand at No. 9, to seize the early lead with a 5-under 31 at the turn.
Another Spaniard, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, was 3 under through eight holes.
Then there was Lloyd Saltman, a 27-year-old Scotsman who competes on the European Tour.
Playing in the first group of the day with Peter Senior and Oliver Fisher, Saltman sent his opening tee shot into a compound of hospitality tents far right of the fairway. He immediately reached for another ball, teed it up again, and knocked another one out of bounds. Finally, with his third attempt and taking what was officially his fifth shot of the hole, he got one in the fairway. He wound up taking a quadruple-bogey 8.
Saltman wasn’t the only one who had trouble at No. 1. Promising young American Brooks Koepka also opened with an 8. Bud Cauley and Chris Wood both walked away with 7s.
Woods had an afternoon tee time. When he won his 14th major at Torrey Pines more than five years ago, he seemed a lock to break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18.
Now, it’s not so certain.
A messy divorce, injuries and a swing change have chipped away at Woods’ dominance. He’s still the best player in the world, with four victories already this year on the PGA Tour, but he hasn’t been able to finish the job on the biggest stages.
‘‘The self-belief you have to have, maybe there’s a little dent in there,’’ said three-time Open champion Nick Faldo. ‘‘He hits the wrong shot at the wrong time, where before Tiger would hit the right shot at the right time.’’
The last 20 major championships have been divvied up among 18 winners, including a pair of first-time champions this season. Masters winner Adam Scott shook off the disappointment of blowing his chance to hoist the claret jug a year ago at Lytham, where he bogeyed the last four holes to lose by a stroke to Ernie Els. Justin Rose followed with a victory in the U.S. Open at Merion last month, holding off Phil Mickelson.
Second-ranked Rory McIlroy, who closed last season with a runaway victory in the PGA Championship, has struggled with his game since switching equipment. He is hopeful of turning things around at Muirfield.
‘‘It’s promising,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s definitely heading in the right direction.’’
The Open is being held at this course about 20 miles east of Edinburgh for the first time since 2002, when a fierce storm moved in during the third round and finished off Woods’ chances at capturing the Grand Slam. He shot an 81, the worst round of his career.
‘‘I’ve tried to forget it,’’ Woods said. ‘‘I just happened to catch the weather at the worst time and I didn’t play well at the same time. So it was a double whammy.’’
Muirfield has come under fire for its male-only policy, one of three clubs in the Open rotation that doesn’t allow female members.
The Royal & Ancient plans to study the issue after the Open, but chief executive Peter Dawson made it clear that the governing body will not yield to pressure over the membership policies of its host clubs. He also dismissed any suggestion that barring women was akin to the days when racial and religious discrimination were commonplace in golf.
‘‘There’s a massive difference between racial discrimination, anti-Semitism, where sectors of society are downtrodden and treated very, very badly indeed,’’ Dawson said Wednesday. ‘‘To compare that with a men’s golf club I think is frankly absurd. There’s no comparison whatsoever.’’