Tiger's tale: his length from tee and hot putterTiger Woods took advantage of his length and hot putter today to shoot a 5-under 65 and tie John Huston for the early lead at the British Open.

Woods, looking to contend in a major for the first time since winning the Masters, nearly drove the 411-yard ninth hole and reached the only two par-5s on the course with irons on his second shot. But the putter, which has betrayed him recently, may have been the key on a warm and nearly windless day at Royal Birkdale.Woods would have had the early lead to himself, but his 5-foot par putt on the final hole hit the left lip and kicked out. It was a rare mistake on a day where he made seven birdies against two bogeys.

The score was a stroke off the 64 Woods shot last year at Royal Troon. But that came in the third round after he had shot himself out of contention; he finished in a tie for 24th.

"This was very similar to the third round at Troon but this time I putted better," Woods said. "I made a couple of bombs which felt really good."

Woods, who made four birdie putts within 12 feet on the front side, sank a curling 35-footer on the 13th hole to offset a bogey a hole earlier. He then birdied the par-5 15th and 17th holes before closing with the bogey 5.

Withn half the field still out on a course that played much simpler than expected because of the fair weather, Woods and Huston were a shot better than 1994 Open winner Nick Price in the opening round.

Another shot back at 67 were Brad Faxon and Sweden's Fredrik Jacobson, while 10 other golfers also finished under par midway through the first day.

The weather was in stark contrast to conditions in practice this week when the wind howled and players grumbled that no one might break par for the championship. And it was enjoyed with a close eye kept on the forecast for increased winds and rain on Friday.

Woods was almost perfect himself on the front side, taking advantage of light winds and soft greens that tamed the links on the Irish Sea. He moved into the lead with a 3-foot birdie after chipping to the ninth green, and had three more birdies on the back nine.

At the par-3 12th, Woods misclubbed and hit the ball over the green. He chipped to within 2-feet, but lipped out his par putt.

Woods, whose putter kept him from contending in the U.S. Open and the Masters this year, hasn't won a major since the 1997 Masters and has won only once on the PGA Tour this year, in the BellSouth Classic.

Jacobson, playing in the first group of the day, used an eagle on the par-5 17th to take the early clubhouse lead.

It didn't last long, though, as Huston made a 40-footer for eagle on the 17th hole. He then hit a spectacular shot out of the deep rough on the final hole that hopped up on the green and rolled to within 3-feet for a finishing birdie and a 5-under 65.

Huston, who had to use a special career money winning exemption to play on the PGA tour this year, credited magnets in his bed and in the insole of his shoes for helping relieve tendinitis and bursitis and allow him to play nearly pain-free again.

Scotland's Colin Montgomerie, meanwhile, teased his fans with two early birdies but may have shot himself out of yet another Open in the first round with a 40 on the back for a 3-over 73.

England's Lee Westwood, who along with David Duval had been one of the young favorites, also got off to a shaky start with two bogeys on the front nine. Westwood had to birdie the 16th and 17th to finish at 1-over 71, while Duval finished his round at even-par 70.

Woods, of course, already has his win in a major, and is seeking his second at the young age of 22. And he also has the length to contend at the 7,018-yard Birkdale, where the winds can play havoc with scores. He not only hits it long, but has the power to rip the ball out of the deep meadow rye that has encroached even further on the fairways than the last time the Open was here in 1991.

"I think I have a chance in each and every major," Woods said earlier. "You've got to be hitting on all cylinders in order to win. Every facet of your game has to be good in order to win a major."

Tom Lehman, who won in 1996, had a late tee time but still played despite injuring his right shoulder at a local amusement park on Tuesday. Lehman was even par through nine holes.

Fred Couples birdied the first hole of his round and was 2-under after 11, while Davis Love III was also at 3-under after 16 holes.