Dan Davies follows the ailing great round Royal Portrush for his final major round this year
‘I Just Want To Go Home’ – The Story Of Tiger’s Open Missed Cut
‘One of the hardest things to accept as an older athlete is that you’re not going to be as consistent as you were at 23.’ Tiger Woods was in his standard post-round scenario, standing before a bank of faces and proffered microphones, dissecting his Open Championship second round and the state of his body.
Minutes earlier he had raised his cap to the grandstands that have transformed the 18th green at Royal Portrush into a great maw. Spectators had risen to salute the three-time Open champion and his gesture was one of thanks. The Irish fans had witnessed a limp rather than a charge, and yet Tiger had still come close to defying his ailments and the laws of probability.
After an opening 78, the odds were stacked against him being around for the weekend but Tiger immediately set about doing what Tiger does best: grinding. He rolled in a snaking downhill putt on the first for birdie, and with conditions benign and red figures stacking up on scoreboards across the course, it seemed possible that something other than his back might have clicked.
Yesterday he had spoken of having a hard time moving during his warm-up and being unable to shape the ball in the wind. Today, he was still walking gingerly but the grimace after impact had gone. His game-face was as stony as ever but at least he was putting the ball in play.
Woods said he had tried to ‘piece together a swing’ for his opening round, but the changes he’d made — he appeared to be standing more open at address — were allowing him to get through the ball, not least with his driver, which he went after on a number of occasions.
A short-game malfunction denied him a birdie chance on 3 but unlike Thursday, he was now moving the ball both ways in the air, and controlling its trajectory. He gave himself good looks at 4 and 5 before finally nailing his second birdie of the round on the par-3 6th with a 20-foot putt up and over a swale.
A superb drive down the par-5 7th suggested that Nike-clad foot would be put to the floor. But his second shot was wild, pulled wide and left of the green. As the marshals ushered the crowds back, Woods used his 5-wood for support as he negotiated the uneven terrain off the fairway. The grimace briefly resurfaced, evidence of why it was imperative for him to be playing from the cut grass.
A duffed chip from the rough, and a poor approach putt from a hollow turned a probably birdie into a damaging bogey. Back to six over for the tournament, more gains were required.
Woods set up a great chance on the par-4 9th with an imperious approach but failed to hole the putt. On the 10th, he struck another glorious iron to 12 feet and this time managed to convert.
On the opening day, the 11th hole had played the hardest on the course. A dog-leg par-5 for the members, it has been transformed into a brute of par-4 for the world’s best. Tiger smashed his drive into the first cut of rough and then played another stunning iron shot, which saw the ball come to a stop six feet above the hole. The putt never looked anywhere but in.
At three-under-par for the day, and four over the tournament, the par-5 12th presented an obvious opportunity to take another step towards the cut line. ‘Tiger, I love you,’ shouted a woman as he climbed carefully to the tee. ‘Thank you,’ he mouthed, a rare smile breaking through the game face.
On this occasion, the driver let him down and his ball found rough down the left. Unable to reach the green, the chip shot was below his usual standards and he departed with a disappointing par.
Woods gave himself outside chances on the par-3 13th and par-4 14th, but the putter had gone cold. A poor pitch from a perfect spot on the right of the 15th fairway saw another decent opportunity squandered before he rounded Calamity Corner, and the three-hole closing stretch that has done for so many at this Open.
His long-iron from the tee on the par-3 16th was his last offering of rare beauty — a piercing, low fade that screamed over the abyss before finding the left side of the green.
There was to be no final hurrah, sadly. The birdie putt stayed out and the mojo had gone. Two closing bogeys were unnecessary insults to what had been a brave and typically absorbing display, particularly in the circumstances
‘I just torqued my set-up differently,’ Woods explained after signing for a one-under-par 70. ‘If you look at what Hogan did with his set-up, it looked not square at all but he was able to flush it.’ After earlier references to the superannuated tilts at the Open by Tom Watson and Greg Norman, here was a nod to another golfing great, and one who tailored his game to conquer age and physical impediments.
Tiger has done a lot of travelling in recent weeks and stated he was now looking forward to going home for a rest.
‘I just want some time off just to get away from it.
‘I had a long trip to Thailand and then trying to get ready for this event. It’s been a lot of travel, a lot of time in the air, a lot of moving around and different hotels and everything.
‘I just want to go home.’
He won’t be playing much more this year, and has explained ad nauseam why he’ll be competing far less in the future.
Whatever his body was telling him, it could not mask his disappointment at missing the cut. ‘It’s more frustrating than anything else,’ said the ultimate competitor. ‘This is a major championship and I love playing in these events. I love the atmosphere and I love the stress of playing in majors.’
But, as he again underlined, things are different now. ‘I’m going to have my hot weeks, I’m going to be there in contention and I will win tournaments. But there are times when I’m just not going to be there. And that wasn’t the case 20-something years ago. I had a different body and I was able to be more consistent.’
We should make the most of any and every opportunity to witness the maestro at work, even if on the occasions he is battling against the dying of the light rather than against those at the top of leaderboards.
The South African is playing some superb golf…
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