St. ANDREWS, Scotland — The roar finally died down when Tiger Woods hit the ball, if only because everyone knew the rumble would soon start again.
Woods was probably the last as a participant in the British Open, on the old course of St. Andrews on No. 18. He won two triumphs here, finished his Grand Slam career here, dreamed of being here for years.
And now, after a tee shot under the familiar granite Scottish sky, Woods knew it could be over forever in a matter of minutes.
Cheers erupted from the stands, and not just near No. 18, as when Woods tipped his hat at Swilkan Bridge a few minutes after 3 p.m. A few more and finally the spectators and even the seagulls fell silent.
He would need three more shots to finish the hole at par, almost – and only almost – as if he wanted another moment at St. Andrews instead of a birdie. He started roaring again as if he had won his fourth Open.
But he didn’t have it. At 9 over after two rounds, 17 months after a car crash in California that almost took his right leg, he missed the cut. His ritual Sunday red robes are now and possibly forever out of St Andrews.
“I don’t know if I’m physically fit to play another British Open here at St. Andrews,” Woods said afterward. “Of course I feel like I’ll be playing more British Opens, but I don’t know if I’ll be when I come back here. So the warmth and standing ovation brought me to the age of 18.
He saw and heard an open career at twilight at St. Andrews. In 1995, when he was 19 years old, heading to practice and missing any of the 15 majors he would have liked to win, he saw Arnold Palmer hit a shot. Ten years later, the hype that followed Jack Nicklaus erupted from the relatively flat confines of the world’s oldest course.
It’s not certain that Friday was Woods’ last Open at St. Andrews, but he’ll return to the old course over the years, and Woods, who has been torn down and rebuilt so many times over the decades, is 46. He has no obligation. any tournament next year and once again said he wanted to be at this particular Open, his 150th and last at St. Andrews, his favorite course.
He could return, perhaps with his son, to retrace his old course. (“I can use the time,” he said with a smile.) But all week, Woods’ prospects for retirement looked better than Woods’ vows, or just the audible aspiration, to return to St. Louis. Andrews Valley.
So an even larger crowd of spectators, perhaps 20 or more deep in some pockets, followed him from the Friday morning start.
“It counts as watching a tee shot,” said one man as Woods just walked past him on the 16th fairway.
“Tiger, you better do it,” said one woman before teeing off on this hole.
“Oh, my God,” she cried again after he let her go.
“St. Andrews loves you, Tiger!” shouted another.
Spectators did, even if Woods’ final score suggested otherwise.
His three-over 75 on Friday was better than Thursday, when he finished six over and 14 shots off the lead. During the two days of competition, he never made contact with the St. Andrews greens, the vast spaces he so dominated, one putt then slowing and then stopping very short. On Thursday, he started by jabbing his finger into the divot.
So by the time Woods walked into the box at No. 18, the first of his group to arrive, any aspirations of another claret jug had evaporated. However, he didn’t think, as he would later say, about anything beyond club selection: a 3-wood or a 5-wood.
He chose to chip in with his ex. He left the tee and felt Matt Fitzpatrick, who later admitted he had goosebumps, and Max Homa stop. He wondered where his caddie, Joe LaCava, was, but soon found himself lagging behind.
“That’s when I started thinking that the next time he comes here, I’m not going to be there,” Woods said. The tears didn’t come immediately, but as Rory McIlroy tipped his hat, the players at the first cup decided to see Woods in his own twilight, perhaps at St. Andrews.
In the end, the men in the 46th, including the PGA Championship winner and the Open winner, walked because they had to.
But they looked back. Woods looked ahead, looking for at least one last shot at the 18th cup.