“Smile,” came the request from a little fellow in the gallery, three rows deep Tiger WoodsStone-faced and head down, he slowly approached the fourth tee of St Andrews.
An hour into his first round and the one major that Woods just couldn’t miss – a British Open in the home of golf – a real grind began.
After a hard-to-watch start, Woods had his second shot slung into the Swilcan Burn before missing a short putt to run up a double bogey. Then came a three-putt for bogey on the third hole.
Firing two more shots at No. 7 after driving into a bunker on the adjacent hole, Woods was 6 over par and looking as lost as the spectator watching the 15-time Major winner in a tiger onesie followed.
He finished on that number, with the 6-over-78 matching his second-worst round at golf’s oldest major and giving him a remote chance of making it through the weekend at what may be his final Open at St Andrews.
Perhaps it was too much to expect that Woods would compete this week despite being one of the greatest players to pick up a golf club.
After all, he’s playing on a right leg that was put together after a car accident in February 2021. It’s only his third event of 2022 – all have been major championships – and the first in almost two months.
Woods, 46, said this week he has no idea how long he can physically compete at the highest level because of his ailing body. That meant he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play St Andrews, perhaps one last time on the stage where he won two of his three British Open titles.
That might explain the big cheer he received as he walked onto the putting green next to the first tee, where he did some light stretches for his right leg and then the first tee himself.
Certainly no other player at number 996 has had such a reception.
And shouts of “Go on Tiger” followed him as he made his way down the first hole where he reached a tee shot that had settled down the middle of the fairway but in a fresh divot. Woods looked away after hitting his approach shot as dust flew off his clubface. Turning, he saw his ball bounce into the surf guarding the green.
He took a penalty, throwing himself across the water and missing a putt about 4 feet. It was a sign for the future.
Although there were no obvious signs of a limp, Woods walked cautiously over the rough terrain of St Andrews during an achingly slow round that lasted more than six hours and was played in nothing more than a light breeze. His long, often silent waits on the tees gave him time to reflect on a series of erratic shots down the front nine that ended in at least a birdie after pacing up and down behind the green.
Woods showed more emotion coming back, his competition juices maybe starting to flow. His frustration was evident after failing to hole a short putt for birdie on #12, and there was a wry smile after missing his par putt on the next.
A drive of more than 400 yards on the par-5 #14, which he double-putted for a birdie, drew cheers and roars from the gallery, and there was more of that on the 18th when his drive rolled onto the front green , just for the ball to fall back into Sin Valley.
It summed up his round that he could only make par from there.
Associated Press coverage
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