The Open 2022: Reality bites as Tiger Woods endures torrid opening round

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The Open 2022: Reality bites as Tiger Woods endures torrid opening round
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Nowhere revels in history quite like St Andrews, but the power of nostalgia did nothing to ease the present woe of Tiger Woods on an afternoon where the roars of hope withered into cries of sympathy. Nobody had expected the 46-year-old to mount a serious challenge here, not even at a course that he twice made his kingdom, but neither did anyone expect such a chastening abdication.

By the time Woods was met with an immense reception on to the first tee at 2.59pm, Cameron Young had already set the clubhouse lead at -8. Within the space of seven torrid holes, Woods was 14 shots behind, wearing the stone expression of a funeral conductor and threatening to become the field’s backmarker. He managed to save himself from that indignity as he briefly rallied at the turn, but it always felt as though he was trying to refit an old jigsaw missing dozens of its pieces.

Perhaps, that is now simply the reality to which he – and we – are now resigned. Woods limped under the duress of his leg injury and lugged the tumult of the last year’s convalescence in tow. There can be no questioning the strength of his granite resolve but, for all of Woods’s determination just to be here, the saddest part was that it seemed to deliver him so little joy. He deserved more than that and you can’t help but wonder how long a marriage like that can last.

If injury and limited preparation are certain caveats, age offered no redemption. Earlier in the afternoon, a 52-year-old Ernie Els had briefly sauntered into contention and even John Daly, sporting a pair of trousers adorned by skulls and lumbering up the 18th with the gait of having just concluded a Saharan trek, still escaped relatively unscathed in a round of 73. The glacial pace of play, with rounds tipping a torturous six hours, seemed intent on extending Woods’s misery until he finally tapped at the last to leave him six-over-par, tied 145th out of a field of 156.

“Well, [it was] probably highest score as I could have shot,” he said. “In a round sometimes it just goes that way. It just goes one way and it never seems to come back, no matter how hard you fight. And then I compounded problems.”

It will go down as Woods’s worst round at St Andrews, two shots poorer than in 2015 when his fearsome aura was first replaced by one of barely disguised vulnerability. No brave face could conceal the hurt here, but it wasn’t helped by some dreadful luck when Woods’s opening shot settled in a fairway divot. In attempting to excavate the ball from its grave, a shower of dirt shot up in Woods’s face and his ball was already on a terminal flight into the Swilcan Burn before he could clear his vision.

When Woods steeled himself to save par at the second with a cute chip from behind the green, it felt as though he may claw his way back. Instead, what followed was a reel of scruffy shots and solemn looks. There was a three-putt at the fourth and a clunky chip at the fifth but those misgiving were overshadowed by the tyranny of the seventh. After watching Matt Fitzpatrick and Max Homa hit the fairway, Woods pulled his drive so far left it found a bunker that wouldn’t even make the map of the hole. Then, after spading his ball back into play, he missed the green with his approach and another rusty chip left him condemned to a double-bogey.

Woods had been clear this week that the prospect of playing at St Andrews again had been a source of inspiration during his comeback. But if the well had all but run dry, an oasis did appear at the short par-4 ninth. With the wind now behind him, Woods’s drive settled just over the back of the green and a defter touch brought his first birdie and even the faintest flicker of a smile. When another followed at 10, foolish hope even allowed for the thought of a rousing fightback. It was promptly extinguished by a bogey and then cremated to ash when Woods yanked a short birdie putt low of the hole at 12. Even in the throes of such gloom, that sort of uncertainty still felt so jarringly unfamiliar.

Another shot was dropped and more than six hours had passed in all before Woods was finally able to raise his cap to the commiserating crowd that had stayed loyally behind the 18th green. After all, while nobody can write Woods into retirement but himself, these might prove to be the last glimpses of him in competition at the Old Course at least.

“It was very, very meaningful [to play],” he said afterwards. “All things considered, where I’ve been, I was hoping I could play this event this year. Looking at it at the beginning of the year, end of last year when I was rehabbing, trying to see if I could do it, but somehow I was able to play two of the major championships in between then and now, which was great. But this was always on the calendar to hopefully be well enough to play it. And I am. And just didn’t do a very good job of it.”

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