If the roar before Tiger Woods’ first shot said plenty about his enduring popularity, the silence that followed his second said even more about the state his game is in.
That was the one – destined, you’d guess – to become infamous in Open lore, which landed flush in the Burn at the border of the 1st green. It wasn’t bad luck. The ball didn’t bounce in, or spin back down the slope. It was just a bad shot, the first of many he made on the opening day.
Four hours later, he signed for a 76, four over, and 11 shots off what was the clubhouse lead at the time. It was his worst round at St Andrews since he turned professional in 1996, and the worst score he has ever made in the first round of The Open.
At one stage it looked as though Woods’ score was going to be worse still. He was five shots over through 10. From there, he scrambled back through the remaining eight holes in one under. He has played worse rounds in his time, his 80 at Chambers Bay in the US Open last month, for one. But at least then he could take a little solace from the fact that his playing partner, Rickie Fowler, shot an 81.
This time he was paired with Jason Day, who shot 66, and Louis Oosthuizen, who shot 67. They both played brilliantly. Woods showed true grit trying to dig himself out of his mess but only a sadist could have found anything else to enjoy in his performance. And the fans here had not paid to see the former world No1 suffer.
There was an ovation after his first tee shot, an iron that left him 60 yards behind both his partners. He flashed a big grin towards the stands and stuck up his thumb as a thank-you. That was the last time he ever looked like he was enjoying himself. After that, a thick wedge into the water, a drop, and a bogey. The 2nd was sorrier still. Again, he used an iron off the tee, and again, the shot left him well short.
His second shot stopped in a swale at the front of the green and he attempted a lag putt up the slope. It sped over the top of one mound, swerved around the side of another and span off 15 past the pin. He hit the lip coming back. A bogey-bogey beginning.
Woods had stopped smiling now, and started scowling. He was stalking through the long grass with his head down, offering curt nods to the people calling out “C’mon Tiger!” Again he was short off the tee but this time he saved par, as he did at the 4th, thanks to a good long putt. At this point, his lag putting was the only part of his game that appeared to be in any kind of order.
At the 5th, the first par five, his tee shot left him an awkward lie, and he had to hit down on the ball, feet splayed high up on a bank covered in rough. He hit a big chunk of turf along with the ball, which fetched up 50 yards short. Oosthuizen and Day were both already up on the green, preparing for eagle putts. Both scored birdies. Woods, though, hit his third 80ft past and took three putts from there.
It went on like this, one long lowlights reel. A chance for a birdie on the 6th went begging when he missed an 8ft putt. A par putt from a similar distance on the 7th caught the lip and stayed up. He was running four under now, and sitting last but one in the entire field. A simple sort of birdie putt on the 8th slid by on the right, another on the 9th didn’t do any better. A miss from 6ft on the 10th made his fifth bogey of the day. It was at this point that he found himself passing by Jordan Spieth in one of the Old Course’s bottlenecks. Spieth was five under at the time. You could see then that the galleries that had once been with Woods were watching Spieth now.
On the 12th, fresh horrors. Woods chunked a chip, watched it loop and up plop down short of the slope in front of the green. He escaped in par. After that there was a solitary birdie at the 14th, earned with a long putt to 4ft, and a fine par at the road hole. He ended his round by missing a 12ft putt for a birdie from pin high on the 18th.
Ever the optimist, Woods said afterwards that he felt he had “hit it really good coming home”, and “made some good clutch putts”. Otherwise, his plan for the second day seems to involve putting his hands together and praying for rain.
“Hopefully the conditions will be tough tomorrow and I can put together a good round,” he said. “I’m going to have to have the conditions tough and then put together some really sorry rounds.” It didn’t sound like self-confidence, more self-delusion.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010