ST. ANDREWS, Scotland —Tiger Woods was strolling alone once more on the 18th gap of the Old Course: a yellow scoreboard in entrance of him and the gentle fading behind him as locals and American guests shouted “Tigerrrrrr!” from behind the barricades.
But this was no victory march at the British Open. This was the finish of one among the worst rounds that Woods has performed in a main: a six-over-par 78 that was a stark reminder of how a lot water has flowed beneath the Swilcan Bridge since his days of domination at St. Andrews.
Woods, who gained the Open Championship right here in 2000 and 2005, reacquainted himself with the water in a hurry in his return on Thursday. After getting the loudest spherical of applause of the day from the crowd gathered on the first gap, he hit his opening tee shot in a usually protected area (“a perfect shot,” he mentioned) solely to land in a contemporary divot that turned his method shot to the inexperienced into an journey.
“I told myself, ‘Don’t hit it flat and don’t blade it,’” Woods mentioned. “I didn’t do either, but I still hit it in the burn.”
A burn in Scottish parlance is a water-filled trench, and the trench on this occasion was the Swilcan Burn that defends the first inexperienced. Woods’s shot splashed down after one bounce, and he ended up lacking a brief putt and beginning his match with a double bogey.
As omens go, it was an correct one as he continued to wrestle into the wind, bogeying the third and fourth holes and making one other double bogey on the par-4 seventh earlier than making his first birdies of the spherical on the par-4 ninth and par-4 tenth.
But that was a false daybreak as he resumed leaving vital chips and putts properly in need of their targets.
Asked what was most disappointing, Woods didn’t hesitate.
“I think just the total score,” he mentioned. “It feels like I didn’t really hit it that bad. Yes, I did have bad speed on the green, but I didn’t really feel like I hit it that bad. But I ended up in bad spots or just had some weird things happen. And that’s just the way it goes. Links golf is like that, and this golf course is like that. And as I said, I had my chances to turn it around and get it rolling the right way, and I didn’t do it.”
He actually didn’t, and it’ll take a sensational spherical and turnaround on Friday for him to even make the reduce and land in the top-70 golfers.
“Looks like I’m going to have to shoot 66 tomorrow to have a chance,” he mentioned. “Obviously it’s been done. Guys did it today, and that’s my responsibility tomorrow, is to go ahead and do it.”
He is already 14 pictures behind the chief, the 25-year-old American Cameron Young, who shot an eight-under-par 64 in his first match spherical at St. Andrews after first taking part in the Old Course throughout a go to to Scotland along with his household when he was 13.
Woods first got here right here in his teenagers, too, taking part in the 1995 Open Championship as a 19-year-old beginner who was nonetheless coming to grips with the quirks and charms of hyperlinks golf. He made the reduce in his debut however light and shot 78 in the ultimate spherical: his worst spherical at St. Andrews till Thursday.
But Woods discovered rapidly and when he returned to the Old Course in 2000, he was taking part in a few of the best golf ever performed and accomplished the profession Grand Slam with an eight-shot victory that was all the extra outstanding in that everybody, together with his rivals, anticipated him to dominate.
He delivered, by no means hitting into a bunker and setting a document for a main by ending at 19 beneath par. He delivered once more in 2005 when the Open returned to St. Andrews as he gained by 5 pictures after which adopted that up by successful the Open in 2006 at Royal Liverpool in bone-dry circumstances that turned the fairways into fast-running thoroughfares. He responded through the use of irons off the tee for management and maintained it fantastically till he had completed off the victory and wept on the shoulder of his caddie, Steve Williams, overcome by his emotions for his father, Earl, who had died simply a few weeks earlier than the match.
Sixteen years later, Woods stays golf’s greatest star even when he’s solely a part-time competitor, nonetheless struggling to search out type after the single-car crash in February 2021 that left him with critical accidents and had medical doctors contemplating amputation of his proper leg.
Returning to St. Andrews was one among his main motivations when he selected to renew his profession, making a late resolution to participate on this 12 months’s Masters the place he shot an opening-round 71 earlier than fading to forty seventh. He then performed in the P.G.A. Championship in May, withdrawing in ache earlier than the ultimate spherical after capturing a 79. He selected to not play in the U.S. Open with a watch on being prepared for St. Andrews.
Thursday was his first aggressive spherical in practically two months, and he regarded and felt stronger, limping solely barely, if at all, for a lot of the afternoon.
“Yeah, it was a lot easier today, physically, than it has been the other two events, for sure,” Woods mentioned.
Though the Old Course is just not the most bodily demanding course with its comparatively flat format, the spherical changed into an endurance check, lasting simply over six hours due to backups on the course that triggered Woods and his taking part in companions Max Homa and Matt Fitzpatrick, the U.S. Open champion, to have to attend repeatedly.
Homa, an American who lastly fulfilled a career-long aim by taking part in a spherical with Woods, made the most of the additional time, chatting at size with Woods, who really regarded much less grim on the again 9 than he did on the entrance 9.
“If there was anybody else in my group, if it was probably just Matt, I would have been complaining all day,” he mentioned, including it was the “coolest” day he has had on a golf course.
“It was a dream-come-true type day minus some of the golf,” Homa mentioned. “It really felt like fantasy.”
Woods might need opted for nightmare, however he did sound content material that he had managed to get wholesome sufficient to play
“Very, very meaningful,” he mentioned of his return to St. Andrews. Woods added, “This was always on the calendar to hopefully be well enough to play it. And I am. I just didn’t do a very good job of it.”
But Woods, even diminished at 46, nonetheless has the capability to create goose bumps. You may see it and listen to all of it afternoon — and there was loads of time to see and listen to it — as he navigated the Old Course and followers lined up, typically 4 rows deep behind the ropes with their cellphones held aloft to take photos of him, even at a distance. Many of them have been mother and father with youngsters far too younger to have watched Woods at his finest. Some held up stuffed tigers.
“They were fantastic, absolutely fantastic,” Woods mentioned of the gallery. “So supportive.”
But the poignant reality is that the Woods so many have been roaring for was the Woods they bear in mind not the Woods they have been watching. For now, he’s what he by no means wished to be: a ceremonial golfer, a main star however not a main risk, strolling the similar fairways and greens however not making the similar birdies and eagles.
As he made his method over the Swilcan Bridge and towards the 18th gap late on Thursday after a lengthy and deflating day, a lady on a third-floor balcony overlooking the course summed up the temper and actuality as she screamed from on excessive: “Tiger!!!!! 2000!!!! 2005!!!!!”