Tiger Woods’ emotional trek on St. Andrews’ 18th at 150th Open echoes legendary memories from Old Course


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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — One hole can tell a story. It can’t tell the whole story, but it can still tell a story. The hole that may serve as Tiger Woods’ final ever played during an Open Championship at St. Andrews told a hell of a tale on Friday afternoon.

As Tiger tapped in for par on No. 17 in Round 2 of the 150th Open, the sweeping crowd just beyond that famous road stood and roared, sending Woods off to the largest finish line in this sport.

Tiger didn’t know what to expect over those final 15 minutes of play. After his round of 75, which followed a 78 on Thursday, Woods said he was simply trying to choose between a 3-wood and 5-wood on the last, oblivious of what lay ahead. This was not unlike his first trip to St. Andrews back in 1995 as a 19-year-old amateur. He shot four rounds in the 70s that year, finishing T68.

“This is where it all began for me as an amateur,” Woods said this week. “My first chance to play in The Open Championship was here. I’ll never forget I played with Ernie Els and Peter Jacobsen the first two days. We had a chance to play with some greats in practice rounds: Freddie [Couples], Raymond [Floyd], [Jose Maria Olazabal], [Bernhard] Langer. I had a great time as a young little kid, and they showed me the ropes of how to play this golf course and how many different options there were.”

Thus began a lifelong fling with Old Tom’s greatest construction, which Woods calls his favorite golf course in the world.

“It’s amazing the ingenuity that they had then that this golf course has stood the test of time to the best players,” Woods said. “And as long as we’ve gotten collectively as a field, this golf course is still a challenge.”

Tiger waited on the 18th tee with playing partners Max Homa and Matt Fitzpatrick, who had honors on the box. They waited for the group ahead to clear the green, and Woods went last, “chipping” a 3-wood up to the Valley of Sin. Everybody in the arena rose, but as Game No. 19 collectively walked toward the Swilican Bridge, one by one, people started peeling back. The caddies, the standard bearers, even Woods’ fellow players dropped a step and then two more to let the 15-time major winner fully encompass the smallest stage in sports.

“As I was walking off the tee, I felt the guys stop, and I looked around. ‘Where the hell is [caddie] Joey [Lacava]?’ He stopped back there, so I gave him the club,” Woods said. “That’s when I started to realize, ‘Hey …’

“That’s when I started thinking about, ‘The next time it comes around here, I might not be around.'”

Tiger never broke stride crossing the bridge, eschewing a choice so many legends have made to turn and wave away the future. He did grab his cap and thrust it toward the sky, though, as everyone who cares about golf watched him cross the stone bridge.

It was a stage of one representing where Woods has resided for most of his career, a journey that arguably began at this exact location.

In 2000, his second trip to St. Andrews, Woods played perhaps the best golf the Old Course has ever seen. He shot four rounds in the 60s and won the Claret Jug by eight to complete the career grand slam. At the time, he was, perhaps, the most singular golfer ever.

“St. Andrews [in 2000] was a different level of ball-striking,” Woods recalled. “I hit it so much better than I did at Pebble [Beach].” Woods had the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by 15 strokes just one month earlier.

Crossing the bridge ahead of Homa and Fitzpatrick, Tiger encountered a familiar face. Rory McIlroy, preparing to tee off at No. 1, walked toward him as Woods walked toward town.

McIlroy has always been the presumed baton recipient, the heir-apparent for the post-Tiger generation. After shooting 66 in Round 1 to sit in second place through 18 holes at the 150th Open — McIlroy is seeking to capture his first major championship in eight years — he acknowledged the importance of this moment. Rory subtly tipped his cap toward Tiger. The symbolism was not lost: Woods near the end of the course, McIlroy with the whole game in front of him.

“I saw Rory right there,” Tiger said. “He gave me the tip of the cap. It was a pretty cool — the nods I was getting from guys as they were going out and I was coming in, just the respect, that was pretty neat. And from a players’ fraternity level, it’s neat to see that and feel that.”

This level of respect flows to a select few, but by Woods’ third trip here in 2005, after several years of dominance, it fully dawned on every golfer in the world that they were dealing with a legend. Tiger won that Open at St. Andrews by five over perpetually beleaguered Scotsman, Colin Montgomerie.

“In every major, everybody is trying to beat Tiger,” said Retief Goosen that year after finishing T5. “You feel like, if you finish ahead of him, you’re going to win the tournament. And that’s how it is in the majors. It’s the same again this week. You just keep playing, keep trying. When [Jack] Nicklaus was in his prime, everybody was just trying to finish ahead of him to win a major. It’s the same thing.”

Fans rose in every direction and appeared in every opening Friday as Woods continued his walk up No. 18. His group continued lingering a decent distance behind; Tiger’s unmistakable high-shouldered, arm-swinging stride was all that mattered. The limp was barely perceptible.

And then Tiger Woods did something notably rare from someone who has been plastered across our television screens more than anyone in the history of the sport. He cried.

“It’s very emotional for me,” Woods said. “I’ve been coming here since 1995, and I don’t know when — I think the next one comes around in, what, 2030? — and I don’t know if I will be physically able to play by then. So, to me, it felt like this might have been my last British Open here at St Andrews. And the fans, the ovation and the warmth, it was an unbelievable feeling.

“I understand what Jack and Arnold [Palmer] had gone through in the past. I was kind of feeling that way there at the end. And just the collective warmth and understanding. They understand what golf’s all about and what it takes to be an Open champion. And I’ve been lucky enough and fortunate enough to have won this twice here. And it felt very emotional just because I just don’t know what my health is going to be like. And I feel like I will be able to play future British Opens, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to play long enough that when it comes back around here, ‘Will I still be playing?'”

Woods also missed the cut in his last appearance at the Old Course in 2015. Among the most memorable moments from that Open was Palmer himself crying over what he knew would be his last visit to St. Andrews. Tiger was experiencing different types of emotions, but the through line was the same: St. Andrews is a special place in the golf world, and it draws something deep from even the hardest men in this sport.

“And then as I got … closer to the green, more into the hole, the ovation got louder and got — you could feel the warmth and you could feel the people from both sides,” Woods said. “Felt like the whole tournament was right there.

“They all had appreciated what I’ve done here for the years I’ve played — I’ve won two championships here — my British Open success and all my times I’ve enjoyed here in Scotland and playing, I felt like it just came to a head right there as I was walking to my golf ball.”

As Woods stepped to hit his putt, they lined the balcony of Hamilton Grand two dozen yards behind Tom Morris, the aptly named 18th hole on the most iconic golf course on the planet. Men, women and children stood way up there, beyond the blue grandstands and the famous yellow leaderboard, holding their phones even higher still.

Bagpipes played in the distance. Seagulls swayed in the foreground. The Scottish sun threw itself into every crevice of the Old. People peered from every building and hotel in sight as Tiger hit his putt. As far as scenes go, there haven’t been many better, even at St. Andrews.

Woods missed that one for a 2, and he missed the next for 3. As he tapped in for par and a meaningless 75, he stared at the line of his birdie putt and shook his head at having blown what could not have been a less-important putt.

A transcendent competitor until the end.

The applause lasted until he walked past the Royal & Ancient building toward the North Sea and ultimately disappeared from view. It might be the last time Tiger Woods ever makes that walk … or it might not be. One hole can tell a story, and this hole told one we’ve always known to be true.

“I put my heart and soul into this event over the years, and I think the people have appreciated my play.”


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