Tiger Woods battles it out 6-over-78 in the British Open grind

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland –

“Smile,” pleaded a small boy in the three-row grandstand as Tiger Woods, stone-faced and head bowed, slowly walked towards the fourth tee at St Andrews.

An hour into his first round, and the one major Woods simply couldn’t miss – a British Open in the home of golf – a real grind began.

A hard-to-watch start had him hitting his second shot into the Swilcan Burn before missing a short putt to run up a double bogey. Then came a three-putt for bogey on the third hole.

Firing two more shots at No. 7 after driving into a bunker on the adjacent hole, Woods was 6 over par and looking as lost as the spectator watching the 15-time Major winner in a tiger onesie followed.

He finished with that number, a 6-over-78, which matched his second-highest score at golf’s oldest major and gave him a remote chance of making it through the weekend at what may be his final Open at St Andrews. Only seven players in the 156-man field shot worse on Thursday.

“Looks like I’ll have to turn 66 tomorrow to have a chance,” Woods said. “So obviously it’s done. guys did it today. And my responsibility tomorrow is to go ahead and do it.”

Perhaps it was too much to expect that Woods would compete this week despite being one of the greatest players to pick up a golf club.

After all, he’s playing on a right leg that was put together after a car accident in February 2021. It’s only his third event of 2022 – all have been major championships – and the first in almost two months.

Woods, 46, said this week he has no idea how long he can physically compete at the highest level because of his ailing body. That meant he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play St Andrews, perhaps one last time on the stage where he won two of his three British Open titles.

“That was always on the calendar to hopefully be good enough to play. And I am,” Woods said. “I just didn’t do very well.”

There was sentimentality behind the loud cheers he received as he walked onto the putting green next to the first tee, where he did some light stretches for his right leg and then the first tee himself.

Certainly no other player at number 996 has had such a reception.

And shouts of “Go on Tiger” followed him as he made his way down the first hole where he hit a tee shot that had settled down the middle of the fairway but in a fresh divot. Woods looked away after hitting his approach shot as dust flew off his clubface. Turning back, he saw his ball bounce into the creek guarding the green.

“Either just don’t flatten it (or) don’t cut it,” Woods said. “Neither do I. But I still hit it in the fire.”

He took a penalty, throwing himself across the water and missing a putt about 4 feet. It was a sign for the future.

“I was still having trouble hitting the putts hard enough,” he said. “Just because they look faster, and especially considering the fairways are actually faster than the greens, it’s just a different dynamic than what we were used to.”

Although there were no obvious signs of a limp, Woods walked cautiously over the rough terrain of St Andrews during an achingly slow round that lasted more than six hours and was played in nothing more than a light breeze. His long, often silent waits on the tees gave him time to reflect on a series of erratic shots down the front nine that ended in at least a birdie after pacing up and down behind the green.

Woods showed more emotion coming back, his competition juices maybe starting to flow. His frustration was evident after failing to hole a short putt for birdie on #12, and there was a wry smile after missing his par putt on the next.

A drive of more than 400 yards on the par-5 #14 he made for a third and final birdie with two putts drew cheers and roars from the gallery, and there was more on the 18th than his drive on the front rolled of the green just for the ball to fall back into Sin Valley.

It summed up his round that he could only make par from there. As he removed his cap and greeted the crowd around one of golf’s most famous greens, Woods couldn’t hide his disappointment.

“I’ve had my chances to turn it around and really get it rolling,” he said, “and I didn’t.”