HOYLAKE, England (CNN) -

You can tell when Tiger Woods is stalking a major championship.

The air gets thicker, the galleries larger and the bristle of excitement notably louder.

Especially in this part of the world, because Liverpool's love affair with Woods clearly hasn't slowed in the eight years since he last walked the fairways at Hoylake and claimed the 2006 British Open title.

But that exuberance might have frayed the edges of Tiger's love for Liverpool, such was the determination of some of the thousands of fans who followed him around Thursday to capture a memento.

"There were a lot of cameras out there and we were backing off a lot of shots," the 14-time major champion told reporters after his opening round of three-under-par 69, a further three behind clubhouse leader Rory McIlroy.

"It was tough. Unfortunately people just don't put their phones on silent and some of the professional guys were getting on the trigger a little early.

"I've had numerous years of dealing with this. You've just got to stay focused out there."

It might have been Woods' first major for nearly a year, injuries taking their toll on his 38-year-old body, but the surroundings were at least familiar.

Victory here was his first since the passing of his father. After tapping in on the 18th green, the then world No. 1 collapsed into tears.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons why Hoylake holds him in such affection, given it was one of the rare occasions when one of sport's great stonewallers turned on the waterworks.

"I was here that day when Tiger won and then broke down," says Nick Smith, a native of Liverpool and one of many who tailed Woods for the entirety of his round on Thursday.

"We celebrated with him and cried with him."

The landscape is different eight years on --- Tiger's walk isn't quite so tall.

His last major title came barely 18 months after success at Hoylake, and the following years have been a litany of near misses, injuries and one off-course maelstrom of his own making.

But the fascination for him remains undimmed, illustrated by the thousands that roared him off the first tee just after 9 a.m. on a still and sunny Wirral day.

While he still commands huge crowds, there seems a tangible shift in mood; that people have come to see the man who once ruled supreme, rather than someone who can hit those heights again.

There was still the odd unwitting sheep among a devout flock.

One man who asked "Who is this?" as Tiger strolled down the first fairway was met with a rather stinging response: "There's 5,000 people following him, who do you think it is?!"

Though Woods' gait might not have been entirely recognizable to all, the quality of his golf during Thursday's fledgling stages was in keeping with recent disappointments.

Two dropped shots on the first two holes elicited groans from the gallery, one man remarking to no-one in particular: "There's always next year, Tiger."