The Open: Tiger Woods in emotional farewell to St Andrews
Twenty-seven years after his first Open at St Andrews, the winner here in 2000 and 2005 admitted this will probably be his last around the spiritual home of golf, a course he repeatedly says is his favourite.
The game is too rusty, the body too broken for the 46-year-old to still contend. He has earned the right to keep coming back until he is 60 but the competitor within him takes no solace in bashing it round nine over par as he did over the course of two rounds.
The memories though are vivid, of the relentless winning machine who sealed the career grand slam at St Andrews in 2000 and then five years later hit the top of the leaderboard by lunchtime on the Thursday and never shifted.
Through it all there was that famous steely stare of Tiger in the zone, emotionless save for a fist pump, a gracious tip of the hat to the galleries and the occasional cuss word.
Now, a more humbler Woods is a lot more open on the golf course. His guard was certainly let down as he walked up 18.
“The warmth and the ovation at 18, it got to me,” said Woods, whose playing partners Matt Fitzpatrick and Max Homa slowed to let Woods take the acclaim.
“I had a few tears. I’m not one who gets very teary-eyed very often about anything. But when it comes to the game – I was lucky enough in ‘95 to watch Arnold (Palmer) hit his first tee shot in the second round as I was going to the range. And I could hear Jack (Nicklaus) playing his last one, I was probably about four holes behind him. But just to hear the ovations getting louder and louder.
“I felt that as I was coming in. The people knew that I wasn’t going to make the cut at the number I was. But the ovations got louder as I was coming home. And that to me was – it felt, just the respect. I’ve always respected this event. I’ve always respected the traditions of the game.
“I put my heart and soul into this event over the years. And I think the people have appreciated my play.”
Across the fairway on the first hole Rory McIlroy – the man most likely to be elevated into Woods’s megastar status if he ever does call it a day – was just beginning his second round.
“I looked over there and Rory gave me a tip of the cap. J.T. (Justin Thomas) did the same,” said Woods.
“Just the amount of understanding and respect from all the people that are involved in this event, that come out in support of the players, and the nods I was getting as the players were going out.”
Woods has played in three of the four major championships this year but barely any other time.
The sight of him hobbling on the leg that needed reconstructing following the car crash in February 2021, hard to comprehend when he used to stride the links with such purpose and menace.
“I’m not retiring from the game,” he told a mixed zone just off the 18th green that was full of about 100 journalists – further evidence that there is no one in the game who commands such interest.
“But I don’t know if I will be physically able to play back here again when it comes back around. 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 a struggle just playing just the three events I played this year. That in itself was something I’m very proud of. I was able to play these three events, considering what has transpired. Hopefully we do more hard work and give myself some more chances next year to play a few more events.
“Life moves on. And I think that’s what people understand. And they knew my circumstances this year, of just playing, period. I was very lucky to have had a great team around me and very thankful to all of them for getting me to this spot.”
The patrons of St Andrews were certainly thankful.