Analysing Tiger's return to The Open
To watch Tiger Woods going serenely about his business in the first round of The 147th Open at Carnoustie was briefly to be transported 12 years into the past and onto the baked fairways of Hoylake.
With one of the finest performances in Open Championship history, Woods won the third of his three Claret Jugs in 2006 by playing a style of golf that was breathtaking in its audacity. Only once in 72 holes did he use a driver, choosing instead to lay up short of the fairway bunkers and trusting a long- and mid-iron game that was second to none.
For Hoylake, read Carnoustie. It would be fair to speculate that Woods rubbed his hands in glee when he first cast his eyes this week on these fabulous, oh-so-testing links.
If there is one aspect of his game that displays a weakness it is his driving – week to week, he finds fewer than 55 per cent of the fairways and is ranked 176th on the PGA Tour in terms of accuracy – so the chance to leave the driver mostly in the bag offered a rare opportunity to choose a cautious rather than an aggressive game plan. In the end, he teed off with irons on 15 of the 18 holes.
Any doubts the 14-time Major champion may have had were banished from the moment he found the middle of the fairway with an iron at the 1st, ended pin high and 10 feet from the hole with his approach shot, and rolled in the putt for an opening birdie.
He picked up another shot at the 4th, had chances for birdies with his new putter at each of the next three holes, and reached the turn in 34, which was the first time since 2013 that he found himself under par in a Major championship after nine holes.
For the most part Woods kept his emotions in check, but the small pirouette he gave after coming up just short of the hole with a putt from off the green at the 5th, and the fist pump that accompanied his saved par at the 9th, spoke volumes. Make no mistake, he is here to win.
At 42, things are not as easy for Woods as they once were. He has undergone four back operations in recent years and at one point feared that he might never play again. This is his first visit to the Open since 2015 and it would be fair to say the galleries were pulling for him from the moment he walked onto the first tee to loud cheers.
His concentration was intense, his swing rhythmic and controlled. He no longer has the fast turn and snap he had in his prime, but a hard and fast running Carnoustie allowed him to play well within himself.
Perhaps with fatigue setting in, the inward nine proved a little harder. He dropped his first shot at the 10th, after a rare mishit off the tee that found a bunker, but bounced back immediately by holing a curling 35ft putt for a birdie at the next. Two more shots were to go, at the 13th and 15th, and although he was a little disappointed in the end with a level par round of 71, he is well within the mix, just five strokes off the lead of Kevin Kisner, who, incidentally, used exactly the same strategy.
“The course is playing tricky,” Woods said, “but I played it the right way for me. I had a couple of bad bounces and the score could have been a lot better, but I hit it good today.
“At one point (because of the injuries) there were real doubts about my future. I feel I’m blessed to be here.”
TheOpen.com is the only place to get all the latest news from The 147th Open at Carnoustie.
This time next year, The Open will return to Northern Ireland for the first time in 68 years. Be part of the biggest party in golf in 2019. Get immediate access to Priority tickets for The 148th Open at Royal Portrush when you sign up today to join The One Club for free. Simply go to TheOpen.com/PortrushTickets.