Is Tiger Woods ready to checkmate the Old Course once again?

Published on Jul 12, 2022 10:23 PM IST

For centuries, the layout, the terrain, and the natural elements have conspired to perplex golfers but Woods knows the course better than most.

Woods had completed his career Grand Slam in year 2000 at this very course(REUTERS) PREMIUM
Woods had completed his career Grand Slam in year 2000 at this very course(REUTERS)
ByJoy Chakravarty

Rory McIlroy thinks there is a bit of Viswanathan Anand in Tiger Woods, which is the reason why he has a chance of winning the 150th Open Championship this week at the fabled Old Course at St Andrews.

Very famously, Woods had completed his career Grand Slam in year 2000 at this very course, popularly referred to as the ‘Home of Golf’ and believed to have been designed by God himself.

For centuries, the layout, the terrain, and the natural elements have conspired to perplex golfers. Now armed with modern equipment and golf ball, mankind is finally winning the battle. However, the slightest of wind blowing from the North Sea can help the Old Course bare its vicious fangs.

The Open Championship returns to St Andrews every five year. And given the condition of his injury-ravaged body – Woods was forced to withdraw from the PGA Championship in Tulsa in May when his body just could not cope up with the cold weather and hilly terrain – many believe this could be his last Open Championship on this course.

There really can’t be a better swansong then Woods conjuring some magic and contending to help the thousands converging on this otherwise sleepy university town in the Fife coast of Scotland live their fantasy.

It’s not an unlikely scenario. With just the beach separating the sea and the golf course, you’d think that the flat surface hands the advantage to Woods. He will be able to walk much better and not put unnecessary strain on his surgically reconstructed foot following the car crash last February.

But that’s just a small part of the optimism. To borrow a line from golf television, Woods knows how to play the Old Course “better than most”. This is one place where brain scores over brawn.

When he won the 2000 Open, the 15-time major champion did not go into a single bunker, one of the major protections the golf course has. There are 112 of them, deep and dangerous, and lurking at every nook and corner. Woods managed to avoid all of them, not just for one round, but for all four days and 72 holes. In the end, he won by a whopping eight shots.

Five years later, he won by five shots.

So, when McIlroy was asked if he thought Woods can contend this year, he did not have to think or sugarcoat his answer.

“I think the way the golf course is, and the way the conditions are, I could certainly see it,” said the Northern Irishman who played a round with Woods at Ballybunion last week.

“It’s going to be a game of chess this week, and no one’s been better at playing that sort of chess game on a golf course than Tiger over the last 20 years.”

Woods himself isn’t sure if this would be his final appearance in St Andrews, a golf course that he has always named as his “most favourite in the world”.

“Who knows? I don’t know whether I will be able to physically compete at this level by then (next Open at St Andrews),” said Woods, the most successful player in the history of the PGA Tour with 82 titles alongside Sam Snead.

“I’m not going to play a full schedule ever again. My body just won’t allow me to do that. I don’t know how many Open Championships I have left here at St Andrews, but I wanted this one. It started here for me in 1995, and if it ends here in ‘22, it does. If it doesn't, it doesn't. If I get the chance to play one more, it would be great, but there’s no guarantee.”

Woods said from the moment he could start walking, he desperately wanted to make it to the 150th Open Championship.

“For the most part of my rehab, I was just hoping that I could walk normally and have a normal life and maybe play a little hit-and-giggle golf with my son or my friends at home,” added Woods, who finished 47th in the Masters, but withdrew after making the cut at the PGA Championship.

“But lo and behold, I’ve played championship golf this year. And once I realised that I could possibly play at a high level, my focus was to get back here at St Andrews to play in this championship being the most historic one we’ve ever had. I just didn’t want to miss this Open here at the Home of Golf.”

Asked how he was feeling physically ahead of the tournament, the three-time Open champion said: “Well, my body certainly can get better, but realistically, not a whole lot. It’s been through a lot, and at 46 you don't quite heal as well as you do at 26.

“So it is what it is. Just lucky enough to be able to play as long as we are able to. On links golf courses like this, you can continue into your 50s. We saw Tom (Watson) have it on his putter to win late in his 50s (as a 59-year-old in 2009 Open at Turnberry).

“It can be done. It just takes a lot of knowledge and understanding of how to play this type of golf. And with the fairways being fast and firm, it allows players who are older to run the ball out there and have a chance.”

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