GOLF

Tiger Woods plays his first 18-hole practice round ahead of a major tournament this year

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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — After Tiger Woods ripped his tee shot on the 18th fairway during a practice round at the Old Course in St. Andrews on Sunday, Justin Thomas followed his ball through the air and said, “Oooh !”

As Woods’ ball rolled down the sunny fairway and bounced high onto the green, Thomas added, “Boing!”

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Woods, a two-time St. Andrews Open winner (2000 and 2005), ended up driving the green, leaving a short, tapping eagle putt for his third birdie of the round. He also birdied on the par-4 seventh and par-3 eighth, on which he stuck his tee shot about 5 feet.

It was an encouraging start for Woods, five days before the start of the 150th Open Championship.

It was the first time this year Woods had played a full 18-hole practice round before a major tournament. At the Masters in April and the PGA Championship in May, Woods played nine-hole practice rounds before tournaments to preserve his strength. Woods and Thomas also rode 18 holes on Saturday night, chipping and putting in the way. They were on the course until shortly after 10:30 p.m. local time.

Woods, a 15-time major champion, declined to speak to reporters after Sunday’s practice round. He is due to speak to the media on Monday and Tuesday.

“He was struggling at first, but he came back as the day went on,” Woods’ caddy Joe LaCava told ESPN. “It’s encouraging.”

If nothing else, Woods seemed to be having a great time ahead of what could be his final start at The Open at St. Andrews. He has won the event three times; he also won at Royal Liverpool in 2006.

On the demanding par-4 17th hole, known as the Road Hole, Thomas hit his tee shot high and straight towards the Old Course Hotel.

“Knock a window!” shouted Thomas, before his ball bounced on the lawn in front of the hotel.

Woods took the same aggressive line as Thomas on his tee shot, aiming for the roof of the old train shed on the right side. Woods’ tee shot ended up in the fairway, but he then hit his approach shot into a cavernous bunker to the left of the green. He chipped about 2 feet to save par.

Before making a birdie on the 18th, Woods stopped for a photo with Thomas, LaCava, Thomas’ caddy, Jim “Bones” Mackay and other members of his team on the Swilcan Bridge.

Woods, 46, is hoping for better results in the last major tournament of the season than he had in the first two he played. He finished 47th at the Masters, his first official tournament start since being seriously injured in a car accident outside Los Angeles in February 2021. He posted scores of 6 of 78 at each of the two final laps, representing his worst scores in his career at Augusta National.

At the PGA Championship at Southern Hills in May, Woods retired after 54 holes due to pain in his surgically repaired right leg. He carded a 9 of 79 in the third round, his worst score in a PGA Championship.

Woods skipped the US Open in June due to right leg issues. He had been aiming for the Open all year. Last week he played two rounds in the JP McManus Pro-Am in Limerick, Ireland, tied for 39th at 7 of 36 holes. He also had a practice round with Rory McIlroy at Ballybunion in Ireland on Thursday.

Woods will play four holes with McIlroy, 2018 British Women’s Open champion Georgia Hall and two-time Open winner Lee Trevino at Monday’s Champions Celebration.

Thomas, who is playing The Open for the first time at St. Andrews, said he tried to get information from Woods, his close friend, on how to play the course.

“A little,” Thomas said. “I understand he’s going to withhold some information a bit, but I’m trying to steer him and get as much out of him as possible because he’s done pretty well here.”

When Thomas was asked if he had any doubts about Woods’ chances of fighting again this week, he replied: “Definitely not. I’ve learned better than to dispute anything about him. “

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