Tiger Woods bids emotional farewell in likely St Andrews swansong

The denouement was Othello-level painful, a farewell wreathed in desolation. But let’s be as blunt as the man himself was after missing the cut by nearly as many shots as he has won some of his 15 majors: Tiger Woods strongly doubts he will challenge for the Claret Jug at St Andrews again.

When Woods compounded his six-over par first round with another three dropped shots in slightly more benign conditions on Friday morning, reality crowded out any unlikely notion of joining the weekend charge with younger, stronger candidates.

Rarely, if ever, in the 150 years of the Open, can a player finishing nine over have been wrapped in such a raucous embrace on the 18th hole. Limping on his rebuilt right leg, Woods raised his cap to the skies skittling over the Swilcan Bridge, without stopping to grandstand. But the 46-year-old exposed his thinned thatch to the afternoon sun and simultaneously connected with the heaving gallery’s acclamation for his gilded history as much as for his failed effort.

“I’ve been coming here since 1995,” Woods said with lachrymose overtones. “I think the next one comes around in, what, 2030? I don’t know if I will be physically able to play by then. So to me it felt like this might have been my last British Open here at St Andrews.

“The fans, the ovation and the warmth, it was an unbelievable feeling. I understand what Jack [Nicklaus] and Arnold [Palmer} had gone through in the past. I was kind of feeling that way there at the end, just the collective warmth and understanding. They understand what golf’s all about and what it takes to be an Open champion. I’ve been lucky enough and fortunate enough to have won this twice here. It felt very emotional, because I just don’t know what my health is going to be like. I feel like I will be able to play future British Opens, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to play long enough that, when it comes back around here, will I still be playing?”

Woods was as candid as he was regretful about his ordinary showing. Time and again, he could not push his hips convincingly through the shot, looking an almost timid shadow of the frightening athlete he once was. “I made my share of mistakes,” he conceded. “Struggled again today to get the feel of the greens. I left a lot of putts short again. Same as yesterday. And I hit a couple of poor shots, ended up in bad spots. And, again, I just never got anything going.”

Whatever happens to Woods in the rest of his career, surviving that car crash and the remake of his crushed bones and psyche will count among his greatest achievements. The days of awesome athleticism and irresistible triumph, however, have gone. Now it’s a game of hope, a relentless grind, bone against gristle, player against golf course.

Woods began chipping away at his deficit with a tradesmanlike birdie on the 398-yard 3rd. The priority was making the cut not a counterattack on the leaders. He needed at least a 66 to stay in the discussion, as he said on Thursday night. A new right leg would have been handy.

He gave the shot back, a hint of what was to follow. On the 570-yard 5th, he hit a lovely cut 235 yards from the centre of the fairway over the Spectacles bunkers, landing lightly on the shared green and rolling the ball tantalisingly close to the flag – the wrong one, the one assigned to the 13th. He left a long eagle putt 15 feet short, then missed the birdie by an inch.

He turned in 37. The journey home was potholed with disappointment. The sun broke through but did not shine kindly on Tiger. Watching with envy at the flight and soaring confidence of Matt Fitzpatrick, alongside the bunker-prone Max Homa, Woods ran out of holes long before the difficult finishing stretch.

A double bogey on the 418-yard 16th killed all hope. The crowd who had lent loyal support fell silent – out of respect or pity, it was hard to say. The Road Hole gathering came to life, and cheered him wildly when he cut the corner with elan.

And then the final scene: he pitch-putted down into the valley of sin and up on to the ledge, within four feet of the hole. Surely, he would grab back a stroke from the old sod? No, a trembling putt lipped out and, in keeping with his championship, he limped away, a weak smile playing on his lips as St Andrews rose to greet him none the less.

Mark Calcavecchia, meanwhile, staggered through his last Open with 21 strokes too many for par on 62-year-old legs he revealed are screaming out for surgery. As Tiger was setting out, Calcavecchia was putting the excruciating touches to an 82, missing a four-footer for bogey on 18. “Forget about my golf. It wouldn’t have mattered if I shot a pair of 75s or a pair of 85s, which I nearly did,” he said. “It was about playing one more, my last one here at the home of golf, which is really cool to be able to end it here.”

Was it really that cool? Pretending his appearance was even vaguely relevant did not do justice to the player, the tournament or the game. It was a peculiar indulgence, entry to the grand stage granted to a former Open champion. Yet, fully 33 years after he won at Troon, a player with two bad knees and a trouser-stretching waistband is invited to compete in an elite sporting event watched by millions of people around the world. That cannot be right. As Tiger said: “Life moves on.”