Tiger Woods thinks he’s said goodbye to British Open at St. Andrews, but there’s hope for more | Opinion

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — It’s the prodigy’s burden to forever be judged against the athlete they were in the flush of youth, before accumulated scar tissue and assorted speed bumps dented both undercarriage and confidence. Comparisons to a younger self are particularly unfair for those aging legends inextricably linked to the fields of play on which their reputations were forged. Take Serena Williams. Defeated in her opening match at Wimbledon last month, the step or two she’s lost over time seemed more pronounced on the very same Center Court where she’d won seven titles.

Which brings us to Tiger Woods and St. Andrews. The Old Course is his Elysian Fields, the fabled preserve of gods and heroes in Greek mythology. His performances here – winning in 2000 and 2005 by a combined 13 strokes – did much to burnish the Woods legend. Those were his 4th and 10th major victories. There have been five more since, but his place in the pantheon was cemented with that triumph 17 years ago. Winning twice at golf’s ancestral home secures that.

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That’s a tough standard to sustain, of course, and Woods hasn’t done so. He’s competed in three Opens here since that ’05 win: an undistinguished tie for 23rd in 2010, and missed cuts in ’15 and now ’22. In time, those latter results will be forgotten, just like Jack Nicklaus’s desultory results in five St. Andrews Opens after his second victory, and for the same reason Alfred Hitchcock is remembered for Psycho and The Birds rather than the crummy flicks of his declining years. No one takes pictures of the descent down Everest.

The increasingly unrealistic expectations that accompany Woods most everywhere – a residue of having won most everywhere – have never dampened his ardor for competing at the Old. Repeatedly this week he called it his favorite course, and said it has been since he first played here as an amateur in 1995. The dates of the 150th Open loomed large during his rehabilitation after a near-fatal car crash 17 months ago.

“I was hoping I could play this event,” he said Thursday, after opening with a dismal 78. “Looking at it at the beginning of the year, end of last year, when I was rehabbing, trying to see if I could do it. To hopefully be well enough to play it.”.

He was well enough to play, but not enough to play well.

“I made my share of mistakes,” he said Friday, after a 75 left him tied for 149th out of 156. “I just never got anything going.”.

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His fans will draw comfort from a comment after the first round when he said the physical strain of playing was less than at the other two majors he contested earlier this year. A blunted game or lack of competitive sharpness is something that can be addressed. The physical sphere has less headroom for improvement.

Time, as it relates to his future, was front of mind for Woods after he exited the final green to a standing ovation.

“I don’t know if I’ll be physically able to play another British Open here at St. Andrews,” he said. “I certainly feel that I’ll be able to play more British Opens, but I don’t know if I’ll be around when it comes back here.”.

The next unannounced date on the Open Championship rota is 2026, but with Royal Lytham and Muirfield due for a return first, the game’s oldest major might not be back in St. Andrews for six years or more, by which time an already battered Woods would be at least 52 years old. Like everything else in his world – game, body, schedule – there is great uncertainty around Woods’ future in the Open.

“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,” he said after an emotional walk up the last fairway. “Just the collective warmth and understanding. They understand what golf’s all about and what it takes to be an Open champion.”.

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The continuum of golf’s history began in St. Andrews and still arcs back through the town every few years. Reminders of the sport’s most imposing figures are everywhere, if you know where to look. As Woods tapped in on what might be his last-ever hole in an Open at the Old Course, an elderly woman applauded from a second-floor window overlooking the 18th green. Her name is Sheila Walker, and she’s the great-great-granddaughter and last surviving relative of Old Tom Morris, above whose original shop she still lives, keeping watch over the generations who followed her legendary forebear.

With a little luck on either side, they will see each other again in St. Andrews.

” Tha dòchas ann,” as a Scottish Gaelic saying goes. There is hope.

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