Saturday 18 August 2018

Unflappable Woods keeps swinging in the rain as he chases glorious feeling of old

Back in the Open for the first time since missing the cut at St Andrews three years ago, Tiger Woods has managed to hit a total of 22 fairways out of 30 in successive rounds of 71. Photo: Jane Barlow/PA
Back in the Open for the first time since missing the cut at St Andrews three years ago, Tiger Woods has managed to hit a total of 22 fairways out of 30 in successive rounds of 71. Photo: Jane Barlow/PA

Dermot Gilleece

Surely there was no shame in being outscored by the great Tiger Woods. Still, before departing the scene, Russell Knox felt moved to remark, "Next time I'll bury him", after they had played together for the first time in the opening rounds at Carnoustie.

It should be noted that Woods was comfortably out of earshot and the newly-crowned Irish Open champion was wearing a mischievous grin.

Either way, their jousting in the company of Hideki Matsuyama brightened a round significantly affected by morning rain.

For his part, Woods seemed pleased, though like a man conscious of much work still to be done.

Back in the Open for the first time since missing the cut at St Andrews three years ago, he has managed to hit a total of 22 fairways out of 30 in successive rounds of 71.

A fascinating theory propounded in his recent biography is that Woods has played his best golf when he's been at war with the world.

His ornery, 'screw the lot of you' attitude seemed to deliver remarkable performances, even in the most unlikely circumstances.

Which brings me to his benign mood on the 13th green on Thursday, when he had a relatively simple four-foot putt for par.

The break was from the left lip, but he struck the putt towards the right half where it almost predictably horseshoed out for a bogey.

The player's calm acceptance was exemplary, almost alien to him. He simply picked the ball up and headed for the 14th tee, confident of retrieving the shot on the reachable par five which, as it happened, he failed to do.

Woods remained similarly composed through difficult conditions yesterday, though you suspected that a nine-foot effort which slipped past the target on the last, again on the right, must have hurt.

This is his 20th Open and, in previous visits to Carnoustie, he was tied seventh behind Paul Lawrie in 1999 and tied 12th to Pádraig Harrington in 2007.

More significantly, his last top-10 finish was 10th behind Rory McIlroy at Hoylake in 2014.

Reflecting on yesterday's effort, he said: "I didn't exactly get off to the best start being two-over after three, but I got it back."

He went on: "The golf course was obviously a little bit softer today.

"The rain meant we were able to get the ball down a little bit further; control the ball on the ground a little bit easier. Birdies could be had out there."

Woods used his three-iron to perfection off the tee, a fine example being the 14th playing to 493 yards, which he reduced to a three-iron and five-iron to set up an anticipated birdie four.

He went on to express his appreciation of the fans, who seemed desperate for him to do well.

"You know it's incredible, because I've had most of my Open success at St Andrews, where I've won twice," he said.

"It's fantastic to have the support we've had. For that many people to come out in the rain today to support us is very much appreciated, even out as far as nine, which is one of the furthest points on the golf course.

"They walked all the way around, cheering for us."

We're not yet looking at the Woods of old, who didn't tend to miss putts from inside 10 feet as he has been doing uncharacteristically this week.

But, having travelled a painful road, he has managed to amass an impressive $312,400 in 11 tournaments so far this year.

As a parting shot he said: "I'm not going to practise today. I'm going to work out, go to the gym and be ready for tomorrow."

Meanwhile, to the disappointment of his band of local admirers, Knox will be kicking his heels before returning to the US and the PGA Tour.

Irish Independent

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