Tiger Woods playing first Open since 2015
Ends level par, five off lead
American Kevin Kisner one clear after 66
From the minute he swept into view, you knew something was different.
As Tiger Woods strode onto the Carnoustie practice range, pulses of electricity ripped through the stands, shocking the contemplative crowd into life.
Cheers and cries of “C’mon, Tiger” rang out.
Cameras swung around to train their lenses on him, as if they were radars locating an incoming bogey. TV crews jolted to attention, like meerkats on the savannah standing bolt upright at a sign of danger. The other players on the range tried to look casual and act as if he wasn’t there, but they knew.
The man was in town.
By the end of a sun-soaked opening day, he may not have troubled the top of the leaderboard, but the former world No.1, back for the first time since 2015, was still the draw card at the 147th Open Championship. The crowd’s reaction was all the conformation needed.
As it was, Woods carded a level-par 71 to finish five shots adrift of fellow American Kevin Kisner, whose 66 kept him one clear of compatriot Tony Finau and South Africans Erik Van Rooyen and Zander Lombard.
But Woods, without a major for 10 years, played well enough to hint at a career story yet to be finished.
Nothing like a Tiger roar
Stroking practice range balls into the silvery Scottish sky, the two stripes of black tape up the back of his neck for a recent niggle were the only giveaway of the backstory.
The four back operations, including spine fusion surgery last April, and the dark times that scared him to death he wouldn’t grace this stage again.
Down both sides of the first fairway, spectators massed three and four deep, like nothing any of the previous 46 threeballs teeing off in the year’s third major had experienced.
“Is there someone important coming?” asked a marshal in mock surprise.
There were shrieks from the first group of women to see him, then a resounding roar as Woods entered the amphitheatre of stands surrounding the first tee. Even if you can’t see him, you can always make out a Tiger roar.
As the giant clock on the white hotel behind ticked around, the starter announced, “This is game number 47, on the tee from USA, Tiger Woods.”
Woods, in grey trousers with white shirt under light blue tank top, touched the peak of his cap and stepped into the ball.
Phalanx of photographers
He cracked an iron up the sun-scorched fairway, a result of the UK summer heatwave, but immediately reeled away, shielding his eyes from the grass and dust that had exploded under his club.
Local hero Russell Knox, one of his playing partners alongside Japan’s Hideki Matusyama, got a decent cheer, but nothing on the guttural urgings for Woods.
When all three had played, Woods strode off the tee box, lips pursed, game face on, eyes fixed dead ahead.
A sizeable army of media and officials, and a phalanx of photographers set off in pursuit, trailing inside the ropes like a procession of pilgrims.
Mutterings of incredulity and annoyance from the paying punters outside the ropes rippled up the fairway like a wave.
From a perfect lie on a plateau of the hump-backed fairway, Woods fired towards the green. A fat divot flew forward, camera shutters whirred like Gatling guns, a pause, then applause from the vast crowds lounging on the ring of burned-brown dunes surrounding the emerald green.
Soon, Woods settled over his eight-foot putt. All fell silent.
And bang. In it dropped. Birdie. Uproar.