Tiger Woods should have been tearing the Old Course apart in benign conditions. Instead, writes Steve Carroll, his struggles were laid bare on the links
There was no waiting on the Swilcan Bridge – that’s not Tiger Woods’ style – but for those of us watching, it felt like a swansong. We may never see him competitively at St Andrews again.
They were hanging out of the windows in the houses on The Links. They were pressed up against the railings. If there had been trees, they would have climbed them. They scaled everything else.
All around echoed the sense of finality.
Woods, of course, has scoffed at retirement. You’ll get decent odds he’ll be at Hoylake next year. But a return to the Home of Golf? The next Open in the Auld Grey Toun feels a long way away.
“I don’t know if I will be physically able to play back here again when it comes back around,” he admitted. “I’ll be able to play future British Opens, yes, but eight years’ time? I doubt if I’ll be competitive at this level.”
It’s time for some realities, though we’re all too painfully aware of them already. As dogged as his return from a shattered leg has been, as sensational his grit and determination to make the cut at both the Masters and PGA Championship, he is a shadow of his former self.
Woods has missed the cut by nine in playing conditions that would have seen him licking his chops in his prime. The Old Course would have been at his mercy.
When he returned after his back was fused, an improbable feat in itself, there was good reason to dream about a comeback for the ages. The power was still there, and so was the swing.
Now completing 18 holes looks like torture. With every step, we wince with him.
“It’s a struggle just playing the three events I played this year,” Woods explained. “That, in itself, was something I’m very proud of. I was able to play these three events, considering what has transpired.”
Maybe a winter of recuperation will aid his stricken bones. Maybe the desire to get here for the 150th Open masked the fact it was far too much, far too soon.
But Tiger’s always been big on reps, and he can’t put in the schedule now. That’s not going to change.
“I understand being more battle hardened, but it’s hard just to walk and play 18 holes,” he said.
“People have no idea what I have to go through and the hours of the work on the body, pre and post, each and every single day to do what I just did.
“That’s what people don’t understand. They don’t see. And then you think about playing more events on top of that, it’s hard enough just to do what I did.”
Perhaps that’s why the tears arrived as he made that final trek up golf’s most famous hole to close out a second round 75 – a walk that brought a standing ovation and a tip of the cap from Rory McIlroy coming down the opposite fairway. Those who were there will never forget it.
“As I got closer to the green, the ovation got louder,” Woods added. “You could feel the warmth and you could feel the people from both sides. Felt like the whole tournament was right there.
“They all had appreciated what I’ve done here for the years I’ve played. I’ve won two championships here – my Open success and all my times I’ve enjoyed playing here in Scotland.
“I felt like it just came to a head right there as I was walking to my golf ball.”
When Bobby Jones, crippled by a degenerative spinal condition, returned to St Andrews in 1958 and was made an honorary freeman, the townspeople, swelled with emotion, sang “Will Ye No’ Come Back Again” as the great man left the Borough Hall.
Woods has now been made an honorary member by the R&A, with a locker in the famous clubhouse that’s right inside the door. In the hope, maybe, that he might one day return.
“That’s pretty neat. And because of that I’m able to get a tee time,” he quipped when asked if he’d ever come back to St Andrews on holiday to remember past glories.
It brought laughter from the reporters – tinged with an edge of sadness. Let’s all hope it’s not yet the end, because we’ll never see his like again.
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