James Lawton: The Old Course helps Tiger find his old self again

When his six birdies went down they were greeted by some of the loudest roars

The healing of Tiger Woods may never happen – at least not to the point where he becomes again the impregnable figure who once treated this historic golf course as a favourite corner of his empire, a stretch of ground he owned as surely as any old Scottish chieftain.

But then if it does, if he resumes once more the pursuit of Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 major victories in the way that less than a year ago seemed so formal, he may want to return to the gentlest of hours beside the Firth of Forth.

He may want to remember how it was when he realised that, though his life was never going to be as uncomplicated, and invulnerable, as it was when he was piling up those first 14 majors, he could still go out to play his game and be appreciated for what he was rather than what so many might have imagined him to be.

Yesterday the moral majority stayed away as Woods had moments of confidence, even serenity that had so often seemed so remote in the first two of the three majors he has played since his life entered a vortex of shame and recrimination that came in the early hours of the morning when much of the rest of America was sleeping off Thanksgiving Day.

The Tiger's rather belated thanksgiving was, by his old standards, placed somewhat in the margins by the spectacular eruption of one of his most threatening rivals, the precocious Ulsterman Rory McIlroy.

However, if McIlroy ripped around the Old Course while shooting a stunning 63, Woods looked like a man who had resurrected at least a little of the best of his past.

His new putter, the first he had granted himself in the course of 13 major victories, mostly worked well enough to contradict the discouraging comments of his caddie Steve Williams earlier in the week. On the 18th tee, he drove stupendously after making his one mistake of the day, a bogey on the Road Hole and, at five-under, he finished a mere four shots off the lead.

The margin, which he suggested was negligible over three days when the wind, like the pressure, was at some point bound to rise, was less important than a powerful sense of regained control.

For the first time since his life, and his image, changed so profoundly, Tiger Woods looked a little more like, well, Tiger Woods. He didn't snap or curse and he didn't suggest that he was carrying the burdens and the resentments of an unforgiving world.

A little of that flashed to the surface, it is true, when he refused an invitation to discuss his emotions in front of a full-scale press conference, preferring a fleeting question-and-answer session beside the 18th hole. Then, he dismissed the reported view of his caddie that his putting was in near meltdown. "When was that story? Two days ago? It couldn't be. I was putting well two days ago."

Better, perhaps, than his caddie will be sleeping for a day or two. However, it could be that his tranquil day, and a doting crowd, may well have smoothed away much of the master's angst.

When his six birdies went down they were greeted by some of the loudest roars and at no point was there a breath of derision, or moral censure, from the huge galleries.

The best bet had been that at the very least some arch Scottish innuendo might have travelled down from Edinburgh or Glasgow but the Tiger was unscathed. He said: "They have always been respectful and enthusiastic here. There's no reason it would be any different. They were great out there today. They were just enthusiastic – we were making a bunch of birdies, so there was a lot to cheer. But they were very respectful."

For Woods there seemed to be a special edge of satisfaction that he had regained some of his authority at the site of two of his most imperious victories, in 2000 and 2005. His first win here was so masterful, so denying of any challenge, it confirmed the extraordinary reach of that talent first displayed three years earlier in his first major triumph at Augusta in 1997. In 2005, his second march home came when his chance of beating Nicklaus's record seemed as inevitable as a sunrise.

Yesterday's move had scarcely the beginnings of such decisiveness but when you are in the kind of terrain Woods has occupied for some time now, you take what is available and you respond with as much optimism as you can muster.

It was a not inconsiderable amount. Woods said, "The art here is letting the round mature and there's no need to force it. Just go ahead and capitalise on certain holes and when I am at just one-under, when others are scoring better, it doesn't mean I need to go force things. As I said, let the round mature. I had plenty of holes left, the conditions were benign so just go ahead and get it done – and it happened.

"It's getting better every week. Every week I'm playing, the things I have been working on have been starting to come together. I'm hitting shots that I haven't hit in a long time.

"I feel I'm in good shape, I took advantage of the golf course when I needed to. You know, as of right now, we're on the right side of the draw, but you don't know tomorrow. The weather is supposed to come in here at 11am but there's no weather now." A few hours later there was a near monsoon of it, but of course the Tiger spoke as a man who may just have been riding out the last of a personal hurricane.

Maybe, maybe not, but there was, he said, one certainty. Young McIlroy had played a remarkable round and there was no doubt he knew how to win golf tournaments. Still, there was so much time for himself to plug on and find his game, arguably the best that golf has ever seen. Six birdies, he seemed to be saying, might just have signalled the end of a siege.

Guide to Day Two of the Open


Today Heavy rain in the morning will eventually dissipate. Winds will be 15mph with gusts of up to 35mph. Max: 15C. Min: 10C.

Tomorrow Patchy rain all day, with winds of 25mph, gusting to 35mph. Max: 17C. Min: 11C.

Sunday Starting to brighten up, but showers will remain. Winds of 15mph, gusting to 25mph. Max: 21C. Min: 15C.

Selected tee-off times Today (GB and Irl unless stated)

8.42 G McDowell, J Furyk (US), Geoff Ogilvy (Aus)

8.58 S Stricker (US), H Fujita (Jap), S Garcia (Sp)

9.09 C Montgomerie, P Mickelson (US), R Goosen (SA)

9.20 E Molinari (It), R Davies, J Leonard (US)

9.31 Z Johnson (US), M Kaymer (Ger), E Chun (S Kor)

10.59 G Day (US), J Cunliffe (SA), T Hatton

12.47 N Faldo, M Laird, S Kjeldsen (Den)

12.58 D Duval (US), R McGowan, T Immelman (SA)

13.20 R Allenby (Aus), N Watney (US), O Wilson

13.31 L Glover (US), R McIlroy, Tim Clark (SA)

13.53 I Poulter, E Els (SA), S Cink (US)

14.09 Y Ikeda (Jap), S O'Hair (US), R Fisher

14.20 T Woods (US), J Rose, C Villegas (Col)

14.31 P Harrington, Ryo Ishikawa (Japan), T Watson (US)

Bookmakers' favourites

R McIlroy 4-1, T Woods 7-1, L Westwood 20-1, P Mickelson 25-1, L Oosthuizen 28-1, E Els 28-1, J Rose 33-1, S O'Hair 40-1, R Goosen 40-1, R Fisher 40-1, R Karlsson 40-1, J Daly 40-1, N Watney 50-1, G McDowell 50-1, M Kaymer 50-1.

(William Hill)

TV coverage BBC 2, 9.00-20.00

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