When asked to reflect on his first experience with links golf at Carnoustie in 1995, Tiger Woods couldn’t stop smiling.
He was the reigning U.S. Amateur champion and only two years away from winning his first major, but everything about playing links golf was new and exciting.
“I remember going down No. 2, and I was about probably close to 120 yards out and bringing out my putter and putting it,” Woods said. “I’ve never done that before. That was one of the cooler moments.”
After warming up at the Scottish Open at Carnoustie, Woods played in his first Open the following week at St. Andrews. It was the beginning of beautiful friendship between Woods and golf’s oldest major.“That was my introduction to links golf, Carnoustie and St. Andrews. Doesn’t get any better than that,” he said.
After a two-year absence due to injuries, the three-time Open champion is back for his fourth tournament at Carnoustie and his 20th Open start. Woods no longer comes into tournaments as the overwhelming favourite, but he knows The Open will always be his best chance to win major No. 15.
“Not to be smart, but it is the next major I'm playing,” Woods said to hearty laughter during his press conference on Tuesday. “You get to places like Augusta National, where it's just a big ballpark, and the golf course outgrows you, unfortunately. That's just the way it goes … Distance becomes a moot point on a links style golf course. But creativity plays such an important role.”
It would be fitting for Woods to win his next major at The Open since so many of his amazing accomplishments have come at this championship.
Woods made the cut in his second Open in 1996 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes and finished T-22. After that impressive week and capturing his third straight U.S. Amateur later that summer, Woods knew he had the game to turn pro.
He completed the career Grand Slam with his dominating performance at St. Andrews in 2000. And after putting out to win at Royal Liverpool in 2006 for his third Open title Woods broke down in tears capturing his first major after the death of his father.
And just like in 2006, conditions will be firm and fast at Carnoustie. Woods arrived on Sunday and has spent the past three days not only getting used to the speed of the greens, but also the fairways. “I was very, very surprised at how fast the fairways were, but yesterday they were much slower because it rained,” Woods said.
“I feel very confident with the way I'm rolling the golf ball, but the greens were a little bit slower yesterday, and I'm sure they'll be a little bit slower today with a little bit of moisture on it. Again, I'm going to spend a little bit of time trying to get a pace for it.”
Even if Woods doesn’t win this week, simply contending in a major would represent a big stepping stone in his long comeback from four back surgeries. Woods finished T-32 at the Masters and missed the cut at the U.S. Open.
“I feel like I have a better understanding of my game and my body and my swing, much more so than I did at Augusta,” he said.
“That's just going to come with a little bit more experience, and I think that I've made a few adjustments, as you've seen so far. I've changed putters.
"I've tweaked my swing a little bit since the west coast swing. And everything's gotten just a little bit better. I've put myself up there in contention a couple times. Just need to play some cleaner golf, and who knows?”