Does Tiger still command an Open buzz?July 19, 2018 Opinion
The GOAT played his first Open round for three years and Steve Carroll was among the throng trying to get a glimpse of him in action
Faces are pressed to hotel windows. If you want a seat in the grandstand, good luck. It won’t help you.
On the opposite side of the narrow fairway, in the temple to golf that’s the 18th, they’re all but hanging over the side of the railings.
There’s a walkway to the first tee but it’s jammed like the M25. It’s only purpose is holding in place a mass of humanity.
The object of their desire doesn’t even tee off for 20 minutes.
If you listen to the many shouty voices on social media, Tiger Woods no longer matters.
He’s an irrelevance.
But these people are wrong. No one gets the golf nut and the casual fan connected like Tiger. And Carnoustie only reminds us of that indisputable fact.
The last time I saw the great man at an Open he was dressed head to toe in black.
It was an appropriate colour. It was such a sorry sight that everyone was in mourning.
The worst of the back problems were still to come but he limped his way round to 69th at Hoylake. If my memory doesn’t fail me, he had to carve out a gutsy par at the last on Friday just to make the cut.
I watched in angst. I had the terrible feeling the curtain was quickly coming down on a glorious era.
Twelve months later, he didn’t even stay for the weekend at St Andrews – a course he had obliterated during his famous Tiger slam.
That feels like a long time ago. It is, in fact, three years since Tiger last graced our shores.
But his return felt like a comfortable blanket. Woods was making birdies and the world was right again.
Everyone got in on the act.
If you ever want to see a proper evacuation in operation, watch what happens when Tiger hits a shot.
Afterwards the place just empties completely, and a massive conga moves on to the point where his ball lands.
When two grown men next to me chest bump his birdie at the 1st, every bank, every hollow, every conceivable way to view is taken.
Jason Dufner comes through 10 minutes later and you can stand wherever you like. All it needs is some tumbleweed.
It’s rewind and repeat everywhere Tiger goes.
There was plenty to shout about. There is another birdie at the 4th. When a 35-footer pours in at the 11th, the place erupts. At even par, after negotiating a finish that kept everyone on their guard, he’s still well in the hunt.
It’s not just the fans for whom Tiger still casts a spell. Playing partner Russell Knox, a man who only a couple of weeks ago won the Irish Open, admitted to being in awe of his ‘hero’.
The nerves, the attention, the chat – all left him slightly unsettled as he kicked off his challenge with a 73.
Wasn’t the fear factor supposed to have gone? Can Tiger sense that players still get rattled when they come to face-to-face with him?
“Not like that,” he says afterwards. “I’ve got my own business to take of and I’m grinding and trying to figure out how to play this golf course and shoot the lowest round I can.”
Very diplomatic, Tiger. Then he unleashes full charm mode.
“I hadn’t played this championship for a few years now and I’ve always loved playing over here. This is where I got introduced to links golf. I played here in ’95 and hauled up at St Andrews.
“It doesn’t get much better than that. This is how the game should be played. It’s creative. It should be played on the ground. You can utilise the ground as an ally, when we play at home that’s not the case.”
So next time someone gives you some grief for bringing it all back to Tiger, order them to give their heads a shake.
How we have missed him. How great it is to have him back.