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Tiger Woods one shot off lead at British Open

Tiger Woods United States lines up putt 14th green during second round British Open Golf Championship Muirfield ScotlFriday July 19

Tiger Woods of the United States lines up a putt on the 14th green during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship at Muirfield, Scotland, Friday July 19, 2013. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)

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Updated: August 21, 2013 6:13AM

GULLANE, Scotland — Like a once-loved politician on the comeback trail, Tiger Woods is stalking again.

Teeing off early Friday, he added an even-par 71 to his 69 in the ­opening round of the British Open at Muirfield.

And then the field came back to him. It often does when the wind picks up as the day goes on. The afternoon players had their hands full in sun-baked Scotland, which is enjoying, or enduring, a record heat wave, depending on your point of view.

‘‘I’m in a good spot,’’ Woods said before the afternoon wave, which included first-round leader Zach Johnson, had teed off. ‘‘Those guys have to go out and play a golf course that’s quick and drying out, and with a different wind. It will be tough out there.’’

After shooting a 5-under 66 on Thursday morning, Johnson, who’s swinging really well, wasn’t able to hang tough on Friday afternoon, when he shot 75 in increasingly wind-swept conditions overlooking the sparkling Firth of Forth.

The two players who had opened with 4-under 67s also struggled. Rafael Cabrera-Bello shot 74, and Mark O’Meara ballooned to 78.

The 36-hole leader is Miguel Angel Jimenez, who shot 71 and is 3 under. Four players are one shot back at 2 under: Lee Westwood, Henrik Stenson, Dustin Johnson — and the enigmatic Woods.

That means Woods was so right. Royal and Ancient golf officials put down a fair amount of water overnight after the players groused about Thursday’s conditions. But by Friday afternoon, Muirfield was back to being its quick, slick self.

‘‘It’s definitely easier in the morning,’’ said Charl Schwartzel, who shot 68 on Friday morning after breaking his 8-iron in frustration on the way to a 75 on Thursday afternoon.

‘‘I didn’t smoke on the golf course,’’ Jimenez, 49, said with a smile when asked if the R&A had asked him to curb his cigars because of the dry conditions. ‘‘I would like to [smoke] sometimes because, hey, it’s tough out there, no? The golf course is in very good shape, but with the wind, some pin positions, the ball cannot stay. It’s a little bit too hard to me.’’

Woods once again heads into the weekend in position to end his perplexing five-year major drought. When he won the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg for his 14th major title, he seemed a lock to eclipse Jack Nicklaus’ 18 championships.

Now that’s in serious question.

‘‘Yeah, well, I’ve put myself there,’’ he said. ‘‘I just haven’t won. I’ve had chances on the back nine on many Sundays. It’s just one of those things where I haven’t gotten it [done]. Just continue putting myself there . . .’’

At 37, Woods is no longer a boy wonder. He has endured a series of injuries and a made-for-tabloids divorce saga that forever changed our perception of him. From a Michael Jordan pedestal, Woods has become a curiosity of a superstar.

Even though he still might be the best all-around golfer, he’s no longer dominant. He’s virtually a fallen hero, like an elected official who overcomes scandal but is seen in a different light.

Woods has tantalized regularly at the midpoint of majors lately, only to fade on Saturday and Sunday. Even with four non-major victories this season that have made him the world’s No. 1-ranked player again, the golf world still wonders if things will be different this weekend.

‘‘Just continue plodding along,’’ Woods said of an approach that sounds very different from the Tiger Slam days.

‘‘Just continue being patient, putting the ball in the right spots. We’re not getting a lot of opportunities out there.’’

This is one for Woods. Question is, is he up to the task?

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