Saturday 7 December 2019

Hushed reverence remains for Tiger but lightning fails to strike twice at Hoylake

The crowds found Woods despite his tenth-tee indignity

Tiger Woods walks off the 14th tee during the third round of the 2014 British Open Championship
Tiger Woods walks off the 14th tee during the third round of the 2014 British Open Championship

Jim White

'Be prepared,' read the notice just by the 18th tee at Royal Liverpool, 'thunderstorm possible'.

Well, anything is possible. It is possible that Kevin Pietersen might throw a dinner party this weekend for Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss. It is possible that David Moyes might be invited to be Louis van Gaal's adviser on tactics. But there seemed very little chance yesterday of play being disturbed by a storm.

The R&A's nervy decision to respond to the forecast meteorological apocalypse produced a sort of inverse Michael Fish: everyone was expecting a hurricane to arrive during play, but don't worry, it didn't.

The flags hung limp from the roof of the clubhouse, umbrellas remained furled, there was not a hint of a rumble in the air.

Especially not from Tiger Woods. The noise that accompanied the former champion as he made his desultory wrong way round Royal Liverpool was more that of the tired hiss escaping a punctured balloon.

To say the least, this was an unusual round for Woods. Evading the cut with a last-chance birdie on Friday evening, he should have expected to head out first, his embarrassment shielded by the early tee off.

Instead, thanks to the R&A's panicky double start, he was off at the same time as the leading group, at the peak of the fore-shortened day. And instead of starting on the first tee, he began halfway round, at the tenth.

But never mind his temporary indignity, the crowd found him. Or at least some of it did. Compared to the swelling press who had followed him on the first morning here, his entourage was much reduced. Yet for those who made the effort, there was reward to be had.

"I came eight years ago and never got near him in four days," said Paul Thompson from Wigan. "I would have watched him on the practice greens back then but he goes out way too early in the morning for me."

Never mind that Woods had no chance of winning, and was slipping further into irrelevance with every hole, following him round the course was something of a personal ambition for Mr Thompson.

"Ever since he came here and blew everyone away in 2006, I've been waiting for this," he said. "Never thought I'd be able to get this close to an absolute hero."

Mr Thompson was not alone in his reverence. As Woods made his way round, a ripple of celebrity washed through the grass. A dad lined his son up on the edge of the fairway to take a picture over the lad's shoulder of Woods walking by. Another man - who may have come straight from the bar - took the opportunity to film himself yelling out a bizarre heckle after Woods had chipped from the fairway of the 17th (or the eighth as he was playing the course).

"Pancakes," the man yelled. Woods ignored him.

How odd it must have been for the three-time Open champion to go the wrong way round. Especially when he headed up the fairway to the 18th green. The last time he had played in Hoylake, he had taken a ceremonial march down to the last hole, the applause of thousands of Merseysiders privileged to witness his performance echoing down the fairway.

This time he was approaching it mid-round. Instead of doffing his cap when he had made his putt, and chucking his ball up into the grandstand, he had to turn on his heels and head to the first tee.

Mind, if he had chucked his ball up in the stand this time, it would have bounced around for a while, ricocheting off the empty seats.

"These must be the emptiest galleries he's played to in years," reckoned David Johnston from the Wirral, who had stationed himself in the stand at the 18th to catch the oddities of the two-tier scheduling. "Just saw Luke Donald go through, now Tiger. How are the mighty fallen."

It only got worse for Woods. He hit six on the second hole, which was his eleventh. And on the seventh (his 16th) he lost his ball in the gorse. He ended the day 

with a score of three-over; not the stuff of which he was once made. The delay in losing his ball meant he was the last to come off the course.

Rory McIlroy finished just before him, despite being 19 shots better off, as order was confounded by the weather forecast.

"I made lot of mistakes. I've made two doubles and two triples [across the tournament]. That adds up to a lot of shots," Woods said, looking close to tears as he spoke. "You don't run up scores like that and expect to be in contention, especially when conditions are this benign."

The conditions did not remain benign for long. A few moments after he had returned to the clubhouse, the predicted torrent finally arrived, giving all those umbrellas brought along for the day a purpose, albeit to protect the spectators as they made their way home.

It was as if the elements had been waiting to mourn the competitive demise of a man who became a local hero.


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