ST. ANDREWS – Whether it's on Friday or Sunday, Tiger Woods will cross over the Swilcan Bridge for the final time in the British Open at St. Andrews.
He just doesn't know if that means this year or forever.
“Who knows?” Woods said Tuesday, unwilling to contemplate a future in golf he knows so little about. The Open isn't likely to return to the Old Course for at least four years, probably a bit longer. Woods is 46 and with what he described as "a lot of hardware” in his right leg that was pieced back together following his February 2021 car crash.
“I don't know — if it is that long — whether I will be able to physically compete at this level by then,” Woods said. "It's also one of the reasons why I wanted to play in this championship. I don't know what my career is going to be like. I'm not going to play a full schedule ever again. My body just won't allow me to do that that.
“I don't know how many Open Championships I have left here at St. Andrews, but I wanted this one," he said. “It started here for me in ’95, 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.”
And he is leaving nothing to chance.
In the other two majors he played this year, at the Masters and PGA Championship, Woods played only 27 holes of practice ahead of the opening round.
He played Ballybunion in Ireland last week with Rory McIlroy. He walked 18 holes with a wedge and a putter on Saturday evening at St. Andrews. He played 18 holes on Sunday, and then nine holes each of the last two days. Throw in the four-hole exhibition and that's more than his previous two majors combined.
Woods wasn't kidding when he said he wasn't about to miss this Open at St. Andrews, the 150th edition of golf's oldest championship. He won two of his three Opens on the Old Course.
“Yesterday for those four holes, he was moving better than I'd seen him move in a while,” said McIlroy, who played the “Celebration of Champions” with Woods over the four-hole loop on Monday. “That was really good to see. And his swing ... hitting the golf ball and swinging the club aren’t the issue. It’s the walking part of it that’s the struggle. But he seemed to be moving well."
The conditions have been so dry that Woods says the fairways are running faster than the greens. The wind was at its worst on Tuesday, maybe the strongest it will be all week, and the air can be heavier that it seems.
“So trying to get my mind right for that,” Woods said. “I’ve been trying to do that, but the only way you can truly do it actually is to get out here and experience it.”
This week is all about the experience, and no one does history quite like the R&A with a “150” logo imprinted everywhere, even on the blue seats in the grandstands.
Still, it's the Old Course that is the star no matter what edition of The Open it might be.
“This is unlike any other tournament really, The Open at St Andrews,” Jordan Spieth said. "It certainly hasn’t disappointed being on the grounds this week. The course is incredibly firm. The greens are flawless, and the setting as you come in — these closing holes — is even more grand than it was seven years ago.
“If you're not getting amped up to play in this Open, I'm not sure this is the right sport for you.”
Spieth had as much attention on him as anyone the last time at St. Andrews in 2015 when he arrived having won the Masters and U.S. Open — only Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Woods had ever done that — and had won the John Deere Classic the week before.
He missed the playoff, won by Zach Johnson, by one shot.
McIlroy wasn't even around in 2015. He was the defending champion who decided to play soccer during his break before the Open, injured his knee and had to sit out. McIlroy now has gone eight years since last winning a major, and he is taking a measured approach.
His game is in good shape, having won the Canadian Open last month. He also joins Will Zalatoris as the only players to have finished in the top 10 at every major this year. And this is the last one.
McIlroy's lone appearance at St. Andrews for the Open was in 2010. He missed a 3-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole, birdied the last and tied the major championship record of 63 at the time. And then the wind arrived the following day and he shot 80.
“My confidence in my game is as high as it’s been in quite a while,” McIlroy said. “I can’t go in here thinking that this might be my time. I just have to go out and play a really good tournament. I’ve got to string four good rounds together, and hopefully at the end of the week, that’s good enough to win.”
As for Woods, it starts with walking. And it starts with being sharp. He says his leg is stronger than it was when he made it through all four rounds at Augusta National with a pronounced limp. Then again, Thursday afternoon will be only his eighth competitive round of the year.
But his spirits were high. He's at the Old Course. Whether he returns to play at a high level is not on his mind at the moment.
“This whole year has been something that I’m very proud of that I’m able to have gotten to this point with my team to where I’ve been able to play in these tournaments when it looked like I would never have this opportunity ever again,” he said.
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