Doug Ferguson is an AP . golf writer
Street. Andrews, Scotland – Tiger Woods took off his hat a few steps away from Suilcan Bridge, knowing Friday might be the last time he crossed at the British Open in St Andrews.
This is where the legends stop, pause and say goodbye.
“Whoa! Whoa!” A few photographers shrieked as they prepared for another historic moment at home golf.
Woods continued to walk, even as tears began to form in his eyes.
“That’s when I started to realize—that’s when I started thinking—the next time you come here, I might not be around,” Woods said.
He said this would not be his last British Championship. Woods doesn’t know if his 46-year-old body, which has been battered by multiple surgeries to his legs and back, will be fit enough to compete when he returns home to golf. Woods mentioned 2030. R&A has not announced the rotation yet.
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However, the moment was not wasted on him.
Woods greeted thousands of fans in the stands on the left, and thousands more watched from hotel balconies and rooftops in the vicinity of the old stadium, some looking out through the windows, others without a ticket hanging from the top of the fence on the road down the right side of the 18th fairway.
Rory McIlroy looked at him from the first lane – he was starting his second run where Woods was finishing 75 to miss the cut – and turned his hat. Justin Thomas was wearing the first jersey and nodded to Woods.
“The closer you get to the green, the warmer you get,” Woods said. You can feel the warmth and you can feel people from both sides. I felt like the whole tournament was there.”
It may be.
This is where Woods won his first championship in 2000 becoming the youngest player to complete his career at a Grand Slam. He won another claret jug at St Andrews in 2005, the year Jack Nicklaus finished his championship run.
Nobody had ever won an Open Championship in St. Andrews three times, and Woods wasn’t about to change that. The only festive thing for him is golf – 78 in the first round, and only one birdie in the second despite milder conditions in the week.
Did not matter. The old stadium, which had been relatively quiet all morning, came back to life the closer it came to its way to the end.
“People knew I wasn’t going to do the cut,” Woods said. “But the applause got louder when I got home. And that was for me… just respect. I’ve always respected this event. I have always respected the traditions of the game.”
“I put my heart and soul into this event over the years,” he said. “And I think people have appreciated my play.”
Woods gave them a little to celebrate on what might be his last tour of St Andrews. He only had four reasonable chances for a bird. His trailing shot on a bunker guarding the front pin on the 16th hit the top and rolled back into the sand, creating his third double bogey of the week.
By then, it didn’t matter. People just wanted to see him.
After he tore his car over the Old Course Hotel sign and into the 17th aisle, hotel guests and spectators lined up against the wall in front of the hotel and Jigger Inn. The grandstand was full behind the seventeenth floor, and people were standing six deep behind the road and the stands.
It was similar to when Nicklaus last played in 2005. He was 65 and announced that it would be his last Open Championship, the 166th and final. Everyone knew he was coming.
Even Woods doesn’t know his future, if only because he was thankful—and lucky—that he played an Open Championship at the old stadium just 17 months after his car crashed in Los Angeles and suffered so many broken bones that doctors considered amputating his right leg.
Head to the eighteenth tee, pit home. All he said he could think of was whether to hit 3 wood or 5 wood. But as he got off the tee and approached the bridge, he realized that his pack, Joe LaCava, was far behind. So were Matt Fitzpatrick and Max Homma, who rode the gun on an emotional day when the best player of their lives was involved in golf.
“It was fantastic. I just got goosebumps,” said Fitzpatrick, who won his first major at the US Open last month. “Just looking around, seeing everyone standing up, giving him a standing ovation as he goes down 18. It was unbelievable. It’s something that will live with me forever.
“It was totally due, and I think at the end of it, you could see that it was a bit emotional too. Yeah, it was a big deal.”
Not even Woods can deny that. I wish he had written a better ending. He broke with a medium iron to about 4 feet for one last chance at Birdie, a fitting goodbye. Thomas, Shane Lowry and Victor Hovland were on their second shots to the first hole. They all turned around to watch Woods finish.
All that Woods did was an applause he would never forget.
“It’s very touching for me,” he said. “To me it felt like this was probably my last British Championship here in St Andrews. And the fans, the ovation and the warmth, it was an incredible feeling, I understand what Jack and Arnold (Palmer) went through in the past. I was feeling that way at the end.”