MARTIN SAMUEL: It can't have been fun for Tiger Woods

MARTIN SAMUEL: It can’t have been fun for Tiger Woods. It didn’t look like fun. At those low points, he must feel haunted by the player he used to be… but what a FIGHTER he is. What resilience

  • Tiger Woods, 46, finished the first hole of the Open with a double-bogey
  • Things didn’t get better as he dropped more shots at the third and fourth
  • Woods was visibly limping as he made his way around the course on Thursday
  • The three-time Open champion finally slumped to a disappointing six-over 78
  • However, he was greeted by applause from the fans on the final hole of the day 

Tiger Woods grimaced. The pain or the scorecard, it was hard to say. We know how hard he fights to hide the first one, but there was no disguising the other.

Double bogey, double bogey, bogey, bogey, six over after seven. There comes a time when the patron of the Last Chance Saloon looks a man in the eye and asks, with deathly sincerity: ‘Haven’t you had enough, sir?’

For Woods, his initial progress around the Old Course must have felt like that. It can’t have been fun. It didn’t look like fun. At those low points, he must feel haunted by the player he used to be.

Tiger Woods made a horror start to the 150th Open and grimaced his way through the day 

Ted Hughes wrote a poem, The Jaguar, about another big cat. He depicted it in a cage, but not imprisoned, in its mind still bounding, prowling, turning the world with its paw. Maybe that’s how Woods sees himself. Still powerful, still the man to beat, always the one to watch. In reality, he will most likely be an irrelevance here to all but those clamouring for what might be a last look.

At six over, he stood 14 shots off the lead and was barely a third of the way around the course.

When he finally claimed a shot back at the ninth with a straightforward birdie, it drew a large cheer from a bulging gallery desperate for some good news. They were ecstatic when he pulled another back at the 10th with an exquisite second shot that stopped just three feet from the hole. What a fighter he is. What resilience.

The 46-year-old finished the first hole of the Open on Thursday with a double-bogey

Yet, at the same time, what chance? The man hardly plays these days. Fingers could count the rounds of competitive golf he has completed in a calendar year. As benign as St Andrews is said to be, a man can’t just turn up armed with grim determination and historic genius and stick it to the greatest golfers in the world.

So, sometimes, he looks like the Tiger of old, and sometimes he looks like an old man with a reconstructed leg who makes mistakes and whose continued presence is in itself a gesture of defiance. He immediately gave one back with a three putt on the par three 11th.

And then there’s the first. Woods’ rage against the dying of the light is encapsulated by the first.

He practised putting in front of a crowd that better resembled a final-day gallery. Standing room only and some of it on top of the white posts protecting the television studios. Smartphone cameras tracked his every move. Necks craned to watch, as seagulls circled in the gusts overhead. Then Woods walked to the tee, encouraged all the way.

Things didn’t get better for the American as he dropped more shots at the third and fourth 

Here’s what Padraig Harrington said about the first, in this newspaper on Thursday. ‘It’s such an innocuous-looking hole, it’s only a lob-wedge approach and you’ll see plenty of people making birdies. But on three of the days the pin will be located just over the Swilcan Burn and you’ll see some players get too cute and finish in the hazard.

I know how bad that feels. In 2010 I fancied my chances — after winning the Claret Jug in 2007 and 2008. But I found the Burn on the first day and took six. I just wanted to go home. It felt like a dagger to my hopes.’

Obviously Woods is not a Daily Mail reader. Guess what he did? He put it in the Burn. Well, first he hit a perfect tee shot, longest of his group and straight down the middle. 

Sadly, it came to rest in a divot. Unlucky, but it’s golf. That happens. Players are often aiming for the same part of the fairway. The odd rotten lie is an occupational hazard and nothing that would have troubled Woods in his prime. He copped the blowback of a face full of sand when he played his second but that wasn’t the worst of it.

One bounce, plop. That’s what would have hurt. Woods made a schoolboy error, just two shots into his Open. He played his favourite course in the world like a novice. That was double bogey No 1. A most inauspicious start. By the time he came off the fourth the seagulls were still circling but by now they felt more like vultures. Woods had bogeyed the third when his second shot fell off the front of the green, and then the fourth with three putts.

At the fifth tee stood Patrick Smith of Phoenix, Arizona. He was dressed in a tiger onesie paired incongruously with a pale blue hat. He said this was his bucket list trip, the 150th Open at St Andrews and for his hero Tiger to be playing was ‘the cherry on the cake’. Yet he wasn’t heading in the same direction as Woods who was now marching off in search of the fifth fairway. Smith said he was resting his legs but they were probably in better shape than Woods’. He said he would catch him up again nearer the turn.

Woods had reason to smile after a birdie on the eighth was greeted by a roar from the crowd

It was difficult, watching the relationship between Woods and his public. So much hope, so much expectation. Woods would drive to a roar of encouragement that died in the wind as the ball drifted. He would play approach shots to greens surrounded by excitable galleries who would greet the arrival with disappointed silence.

And when he finally got that birdie at the ninth the cheer that greeted it had echoes of those who would laud Jack Nicklaus in his ceremonial years. And he smiled, in a way he never would when he was engaged in battle with his peers not his body. The fans still love him, of course.

They are just glad to say they saw him, glad for a sprinkling of Tiger stardust. Children who have only heard stories of the man they are watching shout ‘Go on, Tiger’ because he’s been sold to them as golf’s true hero. In that way, at least, he remains relevant. 

Step away from the human commotion following Woods and you realise how big a draw he still is. For other golfers, even the best ones, there are not rows five deep, there are not explosions of noise. Ropes restrain a throng that does not exist.

Woods was seen waving to the crowd after he eventually signed for a six-over-par round of 78

Then Tiger sweeps through and it’s a circus. At the first, a smartly attired gentlemen angled for a better view. ‘Can’t stand there, mate,’ said a television technician. ‘We’ve got a boom camera in position.’ It was explained the spectator in question had dispensation. ‘Not there he hasn’t,’ he was bluntly informed. ‘He’s going to get hurt.’ Prince Albert of Monaco is not often spoken to like that.

Meanwhile, in fleeting moments, Tiger still spins the world with his paw. A 412-yard drive at the 14th. Another birdie. He would have driven the 18th green too, were it not for a rotten kick. He missed the birdie putt, too, for a six-over-par 78. The gallery stayed with him to the end. Most of them.

And, heavens, it was slow out there. The wrong side of six hours. But when will anyone get the chance to follow this man around this corner of Fife again? Friday. After which, we’ll see.

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