Gusting winds rippled the roof of the supermarket-sized media tent Tuesday, creating an intermittent thunder effect as Tiger Woods discussed his sixth — and maybe most significant — Open Championship on these hallowed grounds.
He knows just how hard this course can be when the weather turns.
“You get winds like we did today, it’s a helluva test,” said Woods, who won two of his three Claret jugs here, in 2000 and 2005. “On 10, I hit a six iron from 120 yards it was blowing so hard. You don’t have opportunities to hit shots like that anywhere else. Then again, if you get a calm day on this golf course, you can see players probably have four to five eagle putts.”
Woods, 46, has survived more than his share of personal storms, the most recent being the rollover accident in 2021 on a steep stretch of Hawthorne Boulevard on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
First, he regained his ability to walk. Then, astoundingly, to compete. He has played in two tournaments this year, finishing 47th at the Masters and withdrawing after the third round of the PGA Championship at Southern Hills, struggling with foot and leg pain.
Now, he has returned to his favorite course and feels as well as he has, post-accident, acknowledging: “My body certainly can get better, but realistically, not a whole lot.”
“For the most part of my rehab, I was just hoping I could walk again, you know, walk normal and have a normal life and maybe play a little hit-and-giggle golf with my son or my friends at home,” he said.
“But lo and behold, I’ve played championship golf this year. And once I realized that I could possibly play at a high level, my focus was to get back here at St. Andrews to play in this championship, [it] being the most historic one we’ve had. I just didn’t want to miss this Open here at the home of golf.”
Woods said the Old Course is noticeably different than when he played here for the first time, as an amateur.
“They’ve lengthened a few holes since I first played here in ’95,” he said, noting the changes to No. 8, the only par-three on the outward nine, a hole that’s playing 13 yards longer than when the Open was here in 2015.
“Once I realized that I could possibly play at a high level, my focus was to get back here at St. Andrews to play in this championship.”
— Tiger Woods
“I think every pot bunker has gotten a little bit deeper. It’s kind of funny when I look back at some of the historic videos of the guys playing out of the Road Hole bunker, and it really wasn’t that deep. Now you can’t see the grandstands when you get in there. All you see is clear blue sky.”
Blue skies could be in short supply this week, with sporadic rains a distinct possibility over the next couple of days. The forecast calls for drier, warmer weather beginning Saturday, but foul weather can roll through at any point.
“I remember coming around here my very first practice round,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how stupidly hard this place is, because I played every hole into the wind. ‘Where do you drive these par fours? This is not what people say it is.’ All of a sudden it changes and I see, no, these bunkers are in play.
“It’s amazing ingenuity that they had then, that this golf course stood the test of time to the best players. And as long as we’ve gotten collectively as a field, this golf course is still a challenge.”
Woods has a photo in his office from that first practice round, one of him crossing the iconic Swilcan Bridge on the 18th fairway. Virtually everyone who plays St. Andrews gets a shot like that, and that stone crossing of the Swilcan Burn is where the legendary Jack Nicklaus gave his farewell to professional golf in 2005.
“I mean, the history and the people that have walked over that bridge,” Woods said. “I tell you what, honestly, now I have to be a little more careful with spikes on that bridge. I don’t have quite the agility that I used to. I almost ate it today.”
On Monday, Woods played a four-hole exhibition with Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and Rory McIlroy, and the foursome posed for pictures on the bridge.
“To have Lee, Rory and Jack, and just stand there with them, that’s history right there,” he said. “Those guys are … . I watched them play this Open Championship, waking up, the telecast would come on at 5 a.m. on the West Coast. To get a chance to watch them play and to see them hit the shots … .”
Traditionally, the Open is played at St. Andrews every five years. Not a surprise, but Woods said this could be his last on the Old Course.
“I’m not going to play a full schedule ever again,” he said. “My body just won’t allow me to do that. I don’t know how many Open Championships I have left here at St. Andrews, but I wanted this one.”