Prior to the first round of the 2014 Open Championship today, it was difficult to imagine Tiger Woods contending. By Robin Barwick

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Tiger Woods, 38, had played two competitive rounds of golf in the past four months, when he shot 74-75 and made a rapid exit from Congressional GC in the Quicken Loans National at the end of June.

Reasonable thought suggested he would have to find the richest veins of form just to make the cut, so uncertain was his game, but this is Woods, the former world number one, the winner of 14 majors, the winner of the last Open at Hoylake in 2006, and experience insists you just can’t count him out.

Even after a shabby start this morning, when Woods dropped shots at the first two holes, he managed to find some equilibrium and post six birdies in the space of 12 holes in the middle of his round. He finished on 69, three under par, and is well placed among the contenders, three shots adrift of Rory McIlroy’s early lead.

“I’m getting stronger, I’m getting faster, I’m getting more explosive,” said Woods after his round. “The ball is starting to travel again and those are all positive things.”

Woods said earlier in the week that he is here to win, despite admitting he was not yet playing to the best of his considerable ability, and his performance today gives real pertinence to what Tom Watson said about Woods before the 2014 Open began.

“Understand that Tiger might very well win this tournament,” started Watson, the 2014 US Ryder Cup skipper, who may have to decide whether Woods merits a wildcard pick for Gleneagles. “Just put it this way: I wouldn’t write off Tiger Woods for a long time, the way he plays the game. He’s a tough competitor. He knows how to swing the golf club.

You have to respect what his capabilities have been and probably will be again. When I was playing golf, it was always, ‘Where’s Jack [Nicklaus] on the leaderboard?’ That’s the first name I looked for, and I guarantee you that the players today are going to be looking for Tiger Woods’ name, guaranteed.”

Well, at the time of writing, the players won’t have to look very far down the leaderboard before they find Woods; he is tied for 9th.

Robin Barwick travelled to the Open Championship courtesy of Mercedes-Benz. Mercedes-Benz is global sponsor of the Masters, patron of the Open Championship and official car of the PGA Championship