Bill Elliott discusses the performance of Tiger Woods in the first round of the Open Championship at St Andrews

Bill Elliott: Tiger Woods’ sanity at stake

COLD? You betcha it was cold at St Andrews. By lunchtime the ice-cream sellers had given up the ghost and headed for somewhere with a roaring log fire and a whisky bottle.
But if you were playing golf and you had a sweater or two then it was perfect, just flat calm wonderful, the old, contrary game as benign and welcoming as it can be in this corner of Scotland.

Unless, of course, your name began with a T and ended with an R. Poor Tiger Woods, as diminished a performer as it is possible to be. It was as though Superman had gone into a phone box to change into Dame Edna Everage. Actually the dame’s alter ego, Barry Humphries, might well have beaten the 14-time Major winner in this first round.

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The question for now is not whether Woods can make the Open Championship cut after an opening joust filled with errors, mishits and yardage mistakes but whether this man can retain his sanity as he surveys the wreckage behind him and the possible disasters in front.

To his credit he continues to smile in the face of adversity which is a whole lot better than the spitting he used to employ when he had both feet on the top of the world of golf. This year his struggles have continued to dismay those of us who admire genius but the way he has conducted himself has been gracious and impressive.

As he attempts to reignite a golf game that was a gift from the sporting gods a new, more polite and just all-round nicer Woods has emerged. Humility, never a word to apply when in his pomp, has attached itself to him in this, the toughest period of his professional life.

It’s already one that may be connected to his current successor. Jordan Spieth’s opening moves as he targets a third big one on the bounce was as controlled and smart as Tiger’s was chaotic and worrying.

There were those who chose to criticise the young Texan for not coming to Scotland sooner and the same curmudgeonly mob sniggered at his admission that he was practising for The Open by playing the Old Course on the simulator he has at his starter mansion in Dallas.

Well, snigger on chaps because why not use a fantasy machine when you’re having a fantasy year such as Spieth? Deconstruct his game and there is little, his putting apart, to drool over. It is good, very good but not exceptional.

What is exceptional is his on-course intelligence and his patient application of this quality. Nowhere requires smart play more than the old lady herself and Spieth may well be the most strategically astute golfer since Jack Nicklaus first emerged on the biggest stages.

There is much still to happen, of course, and much bad weather still set to assault us all during the second round but, for now, the leading cast is assembling nicely. Spieth’s dream remains intact while my own idea of the eventual winner, Dustin Johnson, is doing nothing to disavow me of this thought.

The betting slip in my back pocket is keeping me nice and warm for now.