There are many players from sunnier climates who were neither willing, nor able, to adjust their game to cope with the volatility of an Open Championship. Tiger Woods was not one of them.
One of golf’s true artists, Woods’ unique shot-making ability has always thrived in this part of the world when he’s made the trip across the Atlantic. His trajectory control and creativity relished the windy conditions and Woods’ vision meant he could play links golf as it was intended, using the ground to his advantage and ultimate success.
“I’ve said this many times, but I got introduced to links golf by playing the hardest links golf course there is – Carnoustie,” said Woods, who was 19 at the time.
“Narrow alleyways to a wide-open ballpark [Old Course]. Both ends of the spectrum. The first time I played was on Monday. I’ll never forget I happened to catch the tide when it turned. I played all 18 holes into the wind.
“I heard people say you can drive 9 with a certain wind, you can drive 10, you can drive 12. ‘I can’t touch any of these holes, what are they talking about?’ Then the wind switches and it’s a totally different golf course. Then you’d go, ‘What are these bunkers here for? They’re not even close to being in play.’ The wind switches, and ‘oh my God, they are’. That’s the genius of this place.”
Genius, meet genius. Woods made his Open debut at St Andrews as an amateur in 1995 but it was in the year 2000, off the back of his Masters win in ‘97, and subsequent Major victories at the 1999 PGA Championship and 2000 U.S. Open, that Woods arrived back at the Home of Golf ready to complete the set.
Woods justified overwhelming favouritism and marched to an eight stroke procession on 19-under par. In doing so, he set the record for the lowest score to par in a Major but better yet, he wrote his name into the annals of golfing folklore forever by completing the career Grand Slam.
“To have the opportunity to complete the Slam at the Open at St Andrews, the Home of Golf, is something I will never ever forget,” Woods said.
When The Open returned to St Andrews five years later, Woods confirmed his love affair with the place by capturing a second Claret Jug, this time by five shots. He went on to successfully defend the title a year later at Royal Liverpool in an emotional first Major win following the death of his dad and mentor, Earl.
Exactly where Woods will be in his recovery when the 2022 renewal rolls round remains to be seen. He remarkably made the weekend cut at both the Masters and the US PGA already this year but those tournaments clearly took their toll and a flat St Andrews track has always looked like the venue that presented the still recovering 15-time Major winner the best chance to compete.
“It’s still not easy,” Woods concedes. “Granted the inclines are not steep in any way. They’re not — the declines are not steep. But it’s the unevenness that is still difficult on me. I have a lot of hardware in my leg. So it is what it is. It’s going to be difficult.
“The biggest challenge is I’m not playing tournament golf to get tournament ready for the majors. I’m not hitting shots in tournaments to know what works and what doesn’t work. I’ve had to do that at home. 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.
“Hey, just the fact that I was able to play Augusta when I just started weight bearing six weeks prior to the event, that to me was quite an accomplishment. Then Tulsa was another accomplishment. So this whole year has been something that I’m very proud of that I’m able to have gotten to this point with my team to get here to where I’ve been able to play in these tournaments when it looked like I would never have this opportunity ever again.”
Even knowing all we do about Tiger’s injuries, it would take a brave man to rule him out back at a course he’s made his own.
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