ST. ANDREWS, Scotland —Tiger Woods was walking alone again on the 18th hole of the Old Course: a yellow marker in front of him and the light fading behind him as locals and American visitors shouted “Tigerrrrrr!” from behind the barricades.
But this was not a victory march at the British Open. This was the end of one of the worst rounds Woods has ever played in a major: a six-over-par 78 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, reacquainted himself with the water in a hurry on his return Thursday. After drawing the loudest round of applause of the day from the crowd gathered at the first hole, he hit his first tee shot in normally safe space (“a perfect shot,” he said) only to land on a new hole that turned his approach shot to the green on an adventure.
“I told myself, ‘Don’t hit it flat and don’t cut it,’” Woods said. “I didn’t either, but I still hit him on 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 fell off a rebound and he ended up missing a short putt and starting his tournament with a double bogey.
According to omens, 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 that was a false dawn, as he once again left important chips and putts well short of his goals.
When asked what was the most disappointing, Woods didn’t hesitate.
“I think only the total score,” he said. “Looks like I didn’t really hit it that bad. Yeah, I had bad speed on the green, but I didn’t really feel like I hit it that bad. But I either ended up in bad spots or just had some weird stuff happen to me. that’s how it works. Links golf is like that, and this golf course is like that. And like I said, I had a chance to turn it around and get it going the right way, and I didn’t.”
He certainly didn’t, and it will take a sensational round and a turnaround on Friday for him to even make the cut and land in the top 70 golfers.
“Looks like I’m going to have to shoot 66 tomorrow to stand a chance,” he said. “Obviously it has been done. The guys did it today, and that’s my responsibility tomorrow, to go ahead and do it.”
He is already 14 shots behind the leader, 25-year-old American Cameron Young, who shot 8-under-par 64 in his first round of the tournament at St. Andrews after first playing on the Old Course during a visit to Scotland with his family when he was 13 years old.
Woods also first came here as a teenager, playing the 1995 Open Championship as a 19-year-old amateur still learning the ins and outs of links golf. He made the cut on his debut, but faded and shot 78 in the final round: his worst round at St. Andrews until Thursday.
But Woods was a quick learner and by the time he returned to the Old Course in 2000, he was playing some of the best golf ever played and completed his career Grand Slam with an eight-stroke win that was all the more remarkable because everyone, including his rivals, I expected him to dominate.
He delivered, never batted out of a bunker and set a major record by finishing 19 under. He delivered again in 2005 when the Open returned to St. Andrews, winning by five strokes and then winning the 2006 Open at Royal Liverpool in bone-dry conditions that turned fairways into fast lanes. He responded by using irons off the tee for control and held it beautifully until he finished in victory and wept on the shoulder of his caddy, Steve Williams, overwhelmed by his feelings for his father, Earl, who had died just weeks ago. before the tournament.
Sixteen years later, Woods remains golf’s biggest star, even if only a part-time competitor, and is still struggling to find form after the car accident in February 2021 that left him with serious injuries and doctors considered the amputation of his right leg.
Returning to St. Andrews was one of his main motivations as he chose to resume his career, making a late decision to enter this year’s Masters, where he shot 71 in the first round before falling to 47. He went on to play in the Championship. PGA in May, retiring in pain before the final round after shooting a 79. He decided not to play in the US Open with a view to being ready for St. Andrews.
Thursday was his first competitive round 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 the other two events, for sure,” Woods said.
Although the Old Course is not the most physically demanding course with its comparatively flat layout, the round turned into an endurance test, lasting just over six hours due to traffic jams on the course which caused Woods and his teammates to game Max Homa and Matt Fitzpatrick, the US Open Champion, repeatedly having to wait.
Homa, an American who finally fulfilled a career goal by playing a round with Woods, made the most of the extra time, chatting at length with Woods, who actually looked less gloomy on the back nine than he did 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 “coolest” day he’s ever had on a golf course.
“It was kind of a dream come true day minus some golf,” Homa said. “It really felt like a fantasy.”
Woods could have opted for the nightmare, but he seemed glad he was healthy enough to play.
“Very, very significant,” he said of his return to St. Andrews. Woods added: “This was always on the schedule to be good enough to play it. And I am. I just didn’t do a very good job.”
But Woods, even diminished at 46, still has the ability to give goosebumps. You could see and hear him all afternoon, and there was plenty of time to see and hear him, as he cruised down the Old Course and fans lined up, often four rows behind the ropes with their cell phones held high to take pictures of him. , even at a distance. Many of them were parents with children too young to have seen Woods at his best. Some held stuffed tigers.
“They were fantastic, absolutely fantastic,” Woods said of the gallery. “Very supportive.”
But the poignant truth is that the forest so many roared for was the forest they remember, not the forest they were looking at. For now, he is what he never wanted to be: a ceremonial golfer, a big star but no longer much of a threat, he walks the same fairways and greens but no longer makes the same birdies and eagles.
As he crossed the Swilcan Bridge and headed to the 18th hole late Thursday after a long and daunting day, a woman on a third-story balcony overlooking the course summed up the mood and reality as she shouted from on high: “Tiger. !!!!! 2000!!!! 2005!!!!!”