The Open: Tiger Woods said goodbye to St. Andrews after missing a cut
|Venue: St Andrews, Scotland Events: 14-17 July|
|Cover: BBC TV, radio and online, on BBC Two, BBC iPlayer, BBC Red Button, BBC Radio 5 live, BBC Sounds, BBC Sport website and the BBC Sport Mobile App. Full coverage details.|
They sat on balconies and hung out of windows, they were huddled behind fences and barriers and 10-deep behind ropes.
The crowd of people to the left and right of the 18th hole was visible just after 3pm BST on Friday.
Seasoned observers say they haven’t heard such an ovation since Jack Nicklaus said goodbye to St Andrews in 2005. Now it was Tiger Woods’ turn.
In a heartfelt speech he later said that he hopes to play at The Open again but that we will probably never see him play at a St Andrews Open. However, we didn’t have that clarity out there on the course when he was 18 on the tee.
Everyone around him was looking for emotion on his face, looking for signs that retirement was near and that golf and sporting history was unfolding before their eyes.
What was going through his mind as he waited for the 18th green to clear? Did he drift away on a tide of nostalgia and emotion? no A fighter to the last, he was thinking 5-wood or 3-wood. He thought about the wind and what he was doing and the moisture on the ground and its likely effect on his ball. He was nine over par and still dragging.
However, the sentimentality was to come. He’s got a heart, even if his years as a winning machine sometimes suggested he was out of this world.
“As I walked off the tee, I felt the boys [playing partners Matt Fitzpatrick and Max Homa] Stop and I looked around. “Where the hell is Joey [LaCava, his caddie]?'”
They had all held back so Woods could lead them to the front. 18. Respect. “That’s when I realized, ‘Hey, the next time it comes here, I might not be there’.”
“I had a few tears; it’s very emotional for me’
Galleries were mesmerized by what he would do on the Swilcan Bridge, the traditional place for heroes to bid farewell to the Gulf.
Would he stop or keep plowing? Would he stop and take off his cap and wave like Jack and Arnold Palmer before him, a sure sign that this was the swan song, or would he just keep walking?
In the end he did both. He slowed but didn’t stop. He took off his cap and waved, but didn’t stop to take in the applause. When a fan behind a barrier said as the tall man had moved on: “What does that mean? Is that it or not?”
“As I continued down the fairway, I saw Rory [McIlroy] Right there,” said Woods of the Northern Irishman going down the first hole. “He gave me the top of the cap. JT [Justin Thomas] did the same. It was pretty cool. The nods I got from the guys as they walked out and I walked in, that was pretty nice.
“And then I got closer to the green and the ovations got louder and you could feel the warmth. It felt like the whole tournament was right there. They all appreciated what I’ve been doing here over the years that I’ve played have, have done. I felt like it came to a head right there as I walked to my golf ball.”
Woods rarely speaks like this. In his prime, he’d rather jump in a lake than give you the slightest glimpse of what’s going on in his head. Visual representation of emotions? Forget it. For so many years the walls were high, but now the walls are falling.
“I had a few tears,” he continued. “I’m not one to get tears in my eyes very often, but when it comes to the game and the transition… I was lucky enough to see Arnold on his first tee of the second round in 1995 [of his final Open]. And I could hear Jack playing his last one; I was probably about four holes behind him [10 years later] and could hear the ovation getting louder and louder and louder.
“I felt that when I walked in. People knew I wasn’t going to make it. I’ve put my heart and soul into this event over the years. It’s very emotional for me. The ovation I got with 18 are something.” I will always remember.
“I’ve been coming here since 1995 and I think next time [St Andrews Open] is coming in 2030 and I don’t know if I’ll be physically able to play by then. I’m not retiring. I will be able to play future opens. But eight years from now…I doubt I’ll be able to compete at that level.”
Old Course Opens are usually held every five years so we may return here in 2027 although nothing has been confirmed
Will Tiger ever return to St Andrews?
So that was goodbye to St Andrews where his Open history began.
Golf has spawned epic stories across many eras, life journeys that captivate, from Bobby Jones to Ben Hogan and beyond. It’s easy to argue that the ups and downs of Woods’ story are the most extraordinary of all.
A Tiger Slam 2000-01, a US Open won in 2008 with a cruciate ligament tear and two stress fractures to his left tibia, a crashed SUV in 2009 that led to disgrace and divorce, back surgery in 2014, an 82 in the Phoenix Open to follow, followed by an 85 soon after at Memorial and thus firm predictions about the end.
A second back operation in September 2015, a third a month later, a fourth 18 months later. Then, in 2017, the arrest and brief detention in Florida, when police found him asleep and then disoriented at the wheel of his car with the engine running.
The legend that Woods is is based not only on his major championships, but on the ridiculous improbability of his recovery. Going through all of that and then winning the Masters in 2019 – his 15th major title – was one of the sport’s most outrageous Renaissance songs.
Since then he has had another operation and another car accident, a serious one that could have cost him everything. He may not move like he used to, but every time he puts one foot in front of the other on a golf course, it reminds him that he’s a runner.
“Life goes on,” he said on Friday. “People have no idea what I have to go through and how many hours of body work I have to do every day to do what I just did. People don’t understand that. You don’t see it.”
Will he ever come back here, even as a recreational golfer? “I dont know. I’m sure my son will probably want it. I was fortunate to receive honorary membership of the R&A. I have my locker here so I can get a tea time. So that could happen.”
The Open goes on without him, but as good as this ranking is, there’s an unmistakable sense of loss now that Woods is gone.
Whether he’s turning 68 or 78, there’s never been a show quite like a Tiger Show in the lives of most – if not all – on the Old Course.