ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Tiger Woods walked alone on the 18th hole of the Old Course again: a yellow scoreboard in front of him and the light fading behind him as locals and American visitors shouted “Tigerrrrrr!” from behind the barricades.
But it was not a victory march at the British Open. It was the end of one of the worst rounds Woods had played in a major: a 78 at six over par that was a stark reminder of how much water has flowed under the Swilcan Bridge since his days of dominance at St. Andrews. .
Woods, who won the Open Championship here in 2000 and 2005, raced back to the water when he returned Thursday. After receiving the loudest applause of the day from the crowd gathered at the first hole, he hit his first tee shot from a normally safe space (“a perfect shot”, he said) to landing in a new divot that turned his approach shot to the green into an adventure.
“I was like, ‘Don’t hit it flat and cut it,'” Woods said. “I didn’t either, but I still hit it in the burn.”
A burn in Scottish parlance is a trench filled with water, and the trench in this case was the Swilcan Burn defending the first green. Woods’ shot crumbled after a rebound, and he ended up missing a short putt and started his tournament with a double bogey.
As the omens went, it was accurate as he continued to battle the wind, bogeying the third and fourth holes and making another double bogey on the par-4 seventh before making his first birdies of the round on the par. -4 ninth and par-4 tenth.
But it was a false dawn as he resumed leaving important chips and putts well short of their targets.
Asked which was more disappointing, Woods didn’t hesitate.
“I think it’s just the total score,” he said. “I feel like I didn’t really hit that badly. Yeah, I had bad speed on the green, but I didn’t really feel like I hit it that badly. But I ended up in bad places or I just had strange things. And that’s how it goes. Links golf is like that, and this golf course is like that. And like I said, I had my chances of turning around and rolling it the right way, and I didn’t.
He certainly didn’t, and it will take a sensational round and turnaround on Friday to even make the cut and land in the top 70 golfers.
“Looks like I’m going to have to shoot 66 tomorrow to have a chance,” he said. “Obviously it’s been done. The guys have done it today, and it’s my responsibility tomorrow is to go ahead and do it.
He is already 14 shots behind leader, 25-year-old American Cameron Young, who shot an eight-under 64 in his first tournament round at St. Andrews after playing for the first time at the Old Course while visiting Scotland with his family when he was 13.
Woods also first came here as a teenager, playing the 1995 Open Championship as a 19-year-old amateur who was still mastering the quirks and charms of links golf. He made the cut on his debut but passed out and shot 78 in the final round: his worst round at St. Andrews until Thursday.
But Woods learned quickly and when he returned to the Old Course in 2000 he was playing some of the best golf ever and finished a career Grand Slam with an eight-stroke win that was all the more remarkable as everyone else. world, including its rivals. , expected him to dominate.
He delivered, never hitting into a bunker and setting a record for a major by finishing at 19 under par. He delivered again in 2005 when the Open returned to St. Andrews as he won by five strokes and then followed that up by winning the Open in 2006 at Royal Liverpool in dry conditions that turned the fairways into fast arteries. He responded by using irons off the tee for control and held it down beautifully until he finished victory and cried on the shoulder of his caddie, Steve Williams, overwhelmed with his feelings for his father. , Earl, who died just weeks ago. before the tournament.
Sixteen years later, Woods remains golf’s biggest star even though he’s only a part-time competitor, still struggling to get back into shape after the single-car accident in February 2021 that killed him. seriously injured and caused doctors to consider amputating his right leg.
Returning to St. Andrews was one of his main motivations when he opted to resume his career, making the late decision to compete in this year’s Masters where he clocked a first-round 71 before dropping to 47th. He then played in the PGA Championship in May, retiring in pain before the final round after shooting a 79. He opted out of the US Open in a bid to be ready for St. Andrews.
Thursday was his first competitive run in nearly two months, and he looked and felt stronger, limping only slightly, if at all, for much of the afternoon.
“Yeah, it was a lot easier today, physically, than it was the other two events, of course,” Woods said.
Although the Old Course is not the most physically demanding course with its relatively flat layout, the tour turned into a test of endurance, lasting just over six hours due to the backups on course that caused Woods and his playing partners Max Homa and US Open Champion Matt Fitzpatrick to have to wait repeatedly.
Homa, an American who finally fulfilled a career goal by playing a trick with Woods, took advantage of the extra time, chatting at length with Woods, who actually looked less sinister on the back nine than on the front nine. .
“If there was anyone else in my group, if it was probably just Matt, I would have been complaining all day,” he said, adding that it was the “worst day.” cool” that he had on a golf course.
“It was a dream day come true without a game of golf,” Homa said. “It really felt like fantasy.”
Woods may have gone for the nightmare, but he made sound content he managed to get healthy enough to play.
“Very, very meaningful,” he said of his return to St. Andrews. Woods added: “It’s always been on the schedule to hopefully be good enough to play there. And I am. I just didn’t do a very good job.
But Woods, even diminished at 46, still has the ability to create goosebumps. You could see and hear him all afternoon – and there was plenty of time to see and hear him – as he cruised the Old Course and the fans lined up, often four rows behind the ropes with their cell phones in the air to take pictures of him, even from a distance. Many of them were parents with children far too young to have watched Woods at his best. Some brandished stuffed tigers.
“They were fantastic, absolutely fantastic,” Woods said of the gallery. “So supportive.”
But the poignant truth is that the woods so many people roared for were the woods they remembered, not the woods they looked at. For now, he is what he never wanted to be: a ceremonial golfer, a major star but no longer a major threat, walking the same fairways and greens but no longer making the same birdies and eagles.
As he crossed the Swilcan Bridge and headed for the 18th hole on Thursday night after a long, deflating day, a woman on a third-story balcony overlooking the course summed up the mood and reality as she shouted from below. top: “Tiger!!!!! 2000!!!! 2005!!!!!