St Andrews’ charm has Tiger Woods and golf primed for special Open Championship

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Open winners Woods (left) and Jack Nicklaus on the Swilcan Bridge at the iconic Old Course  (AFP via Getty Images)
Open winners Woods (left) and Jack Nicklaus on the Swilcan Bridge at the iconic Old Course (AFP via Getty Images)

“It’s my favourite golf course in the world,” Tiger Woods said of St Andrews with such conviction and that signature smile. Perhaps the greatest of all time, Woods has pulled off a miracle to merely play this week at the “home of golf”, but The Open, this Open, played a crucial part in the darkest of times, spurring him on to make an inspirational comeback that resumes 18 months after his severe car accident.

Woods speaks of “jeopardy”, had he played last month’s US Open at Brookline. The 46-year-old’s arduous weeks and months of rehabilitation designed to return to elite golf, yes, but specifically the 150th Open.

“I want to play there again, and I don’t know when they are ever going to go back while I’m still able to play at a high level,” Woods conceded, cognisant that the next Open here is at least four years away. “I want to be able to give it at least one more run at a high level.

“So yes, it’s worth it because some days moving off the couch is a hell of a task.”

This is a more reflective Woods, speaking last week at the JP McManus pro-am, an event in which he used a buggy, further demonstrating how important it is to save himself for the big dance.

A general view of the 18th green at The Open 2022 at the Old Course, St Andrews (PA)
A general view of the 18th green at The Open 2022 at the Old Course, St Andrews (PA)

These wide, gaping greens leave each player so isolated, attempting to paint their own masterpiece on such an illustrious canvas. It’s a puzzle only mastered after several trips to this eastern tip of Scotland.

Although Justin Thomas belatedly discovered this; driver, six-iron and an eagle two for his first hole during a practice round made for “a pretty good first experience of St Andrews”.

Some at The R&A may fear the delightful conditions forecast, which could bake out the course and allow the players to manipulate the ball with short irons. Jordan Spieth, the 2017 champion who missed out on a play-off here in 2015, has acknowledged as much, tempting fate by admitting, “I think it might be [too easy].”

The blustery conditions in 2015 made for a totally different experience, with Spieth hoping for “a nice 10 to 15 miles an hour wind” to avoid reducing the chase for the Claret Jug to just “a wedge contest”.

It is rare to find somebody who isn’t charmed by this place, even beyond the Old Course; Georgia Hall relishes the walk around the town, to the sandy beach. Of course, focus will be on the golf, with debate flowing like pints of ale at the Jigger Inn. This is the beauty of links golf and which Old Course will emerge.

“It’s my favourite place ever,” Hall, the 2018 Women’s British Open winner, tells TheIndependent. “I love every second there. It really depends on the weather; if there’s no wind it can be very easy.

“But number one you have to stay out of the bunkers. The greens are very big, you won’t be chipping a lot, so lag putting is very important.

“But stay out of the bunkers, it’s not too tight. You just have to know where to place the ball. It’s harder than it looks.”

Justin Rose plays out of the road hole bunker (AFP via Getty Images)
Justin Rose plays out of the road hole bunker (AFP via Getty Images)

Hall is of course talking about the 112 devilish bunkers looking to dash the dreams of the 156 players entered. Woods, famously, dissected the course splendidly on his way to the first of his two Claret Jugs in 2000, avoiding the sand entirely.

Whoever lifts the Claret Jug on Sunday will be fronting part of a famous team though, as Dylan Frittelli outlines, emphasising the importance of strategy and a wise caddy to guide their player throughout 72 holes.

“You have to be so sound tactically around the Old Course, you have to know what shots not to hit. You’re trying to avoid big trouble, bite off a little less risk, you can excel. A good caddy is huge in that regard,” the South African, who finished fifth in the Open last year, tells The Independent.

“Ball striking is obviously No 1 in my opinion, but putting is crucial, too, if you can putt on slow greens, that’s cool.

“But if you can go around and hit 68 of 72 greens, leave yourself putts inside 50 or 60 feet, you’ll do just fine and shoot three or four-under each round. I think that’s what it’ll take. The guy that avoids a double bogey all week and then somebody who can ball strike it to death. That’ll be the guy that’s going to win.

“Anybody can play on a links course, because it’s firm, the shorter hitters can run it out to a big distance. The guy that plays the best is going to be the guy that strikes it best from tee to green.”

From Seve Ballesteros’s iconic fist pump in 1984 to Costantino Rocca dropping to his knees and thudding the ground in joy in 1995, only to lose in a play-off to John Daly; this is the place where legends are made.

And nobody is more aware than Woods, revelling in his membership to an exclusive club and hoping a famous hat-trick will prolong the wait for his rivals: “As Jack [Nicklaus] says, your career is not complete unless you’ve won an Open Championship at the Home of Golf.”

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