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Tiger Woods believes it is possible for him to compete at The Open well into his 50s but accepts this may be the last time he plays his all-time favourite venue of St Andrews.
Two of the 15-time major winner’s three Claret Jugs have been won on the Old Course, in 2000 and 2005, but after this year’s 150th Championship the event will not return for at least another five years.
By then Woods will be five months away from his 52nd birthday: the oldest modern-day winner of the event was the 44-year-old Roberto De Vicenzo in 1967, while Phil Mickelson, a month short of his 51st birthday, became the oldest major champion with last year’s US PGA Championship victory.
🗣️ "Who me? Retire?! No!" 🤣
Tiger Woods tells Sky Sports he has no plans to retire at the moment but admits this may be his last chance to win an Open at St Andrews 🏴 pic.twitter.com/vOsvuKIsBi
— Sky Sports Golf (@SkySportsGolf) July 12, 2022
Back problems have plagued the latter years of Woods’ career while the February 2021 car crash in which he almost lost a leg left him wondering whether he would ever play at the highest level again.
Having regained his fitness he targeted St Andrews as the one event he had to play in but, while he will fulfil that mission this week when he goes out with newly-crowned US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick and fellow American Max Homa on Thursday, he does not know whether he will ever return.
“I’m not retiring,” the 46-year-old Woods told Sky Sports, before going on to explain in his pre-tournament press conference he was not sure whether he would play an Open on the Old Course again.
“Who knows? I don’t know, if it is that long (to 2027), whether I will be able to physically compete at this level by then.
“It’s also one of the reasons why I wanted to play in this championship. I don’t know what my career is going to be like.
“I don’t know how many Open Championships I have left here at St Andrews but I wanted this one.
“It started here for me in ’95 and if it ends here in ’22, it does. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.
“If I get the chance to play one more, it would be great, but there’s no guarantee.”
Links golf, especially on courses like St Andrews this week which is running hard and fast, levels the playing field somewhat for the players who are not the biggest hitters.
Woods cited the example of Tom Watson, who came within an up-and-down from the back of the 18th green of winning a sixth Open at Turnberry in 2009 just a few weeks short of his 60th birthday.
“My body certainly can get better, but realistically, not a whole lot. It’s been through a lot, and at 46 you don’t quite heal as well as you do at 26 so it is what it is,” he added.
“(We’re) just lucky enough, in our sport, to be able to play as long as we are able to play late into the 40s and especially on links golf courses like this, you can continue into your 50s.
“We saw Tom have it on his putter to win late in his 50s so it can be done.
“It just takes a lot of knowledge and understanding of how to play this type of golf and with the fairways being fast and firm, it allows players who are older to run the ball out there and have a chance.”
World number two Rory McIlroy, the favourite at St Andrews, played some practice rounds with Woods in Ireland last week and believes the American still has the game and the mindset to pull off what would be a remarkable victory.
“I think the way the golf course is and the way the conditions are, I could certainly see it,” said the Northern Irishman.
“It’s going to be a game of chess this week and no one’s been better at playing that sort of chess game on a golf course than Tiger over the last 20 years.”
Woods’ problem is a lack of recent competitive experience, having not played since the US PGA Championship at the end of May – only his second event of the year.
“The biggest challenge is I’m not playing tournament golf to get tournament ready for the majors,” he said.
“I’m not hitting shots in tournaments to know what works and what doesn’t work.
— The Open (@TheOpen) July 11, 2022
“Yes, I can do that. I can do that at home to a certain extent but it certainly is a lot better when I’m able to play tournament golf to feel tournament-hardened coming into these big events.
“But that’s no longer my future. I’m not going to be able to do that again so this is what my future is: a very limited schedule.
“I’m going to have to somehow figure out a way to practise at home efficiently and come to these events maybe just a little bit earlier and get more looks and try to get a better feel for it and really trust what I’m doing because I hadn’t proven it to myself in any other tournaments prior to this.”