Perhaps Tiger Woods should have been asked whether he will be intimidated when playing with Justin Rose in the first two rounds of this Open Championship and not vice versa. After all, the Englishman has won two of his last three events – and the American has not won any of his last six.
But then, this is Woods we are talking about and "the opportunity for distraction" as Rose quaintly put it will be as obvious as it will be dangerous. When the world No 1 tees off on the Old Course at 9.09am on Thursday he will be under more scrutiny than ever before in an Open. And Rose will be part of the circus.
"I was not surprised to be honest – I kind of called it actually," said Rose, who will also have the Colombian Camilo Villegas for company. "When I heard the draw I stayed flatline. Wasn't up or down. At a St Andrews Open the course is the iconic thing. No one is bigger than that this week. It's got the opportunity to be a distraction for sure, but I was always going to get a fairly busy group. I don't think it has ramped it up."
While some may doubt his nonchalance, Rose does have previous experience of the media maul which is an Open round with Woods. Eight years ago at Muirfield, when he was just 21, the Royal and Ancient handed him the most dubious "honour" in golf. He admitted to the nerves running amok on that occasion. Only his late father Ken had the wherewithal to put the pieces back together.
"He gave me a great speech," he said. "Dad was going through tough times with his health and that put it all in perspective. He sat me down and said it's just a round of golf. He was facing tough times, so it wasn't a big deal. I remember playing fairly well. I got off to a flier."
Indeed he did, outscoring the player who had won that year's first two majors 68 to 70. Rose slumped to a 75 on the Friday but the experience clearly served him well. When he was paired with Woods once again in 2007 at Carnoustie he put himself in contention for the weekend, eventually finishing tied for 12th. "Tiger is good to play with," said Rose. "He always compliments good shots. You can't ask for anything more from a playing partner. I don't try to get into conversation but if it happens naturally he will respond."
Rose certainly anticipates no heckling, despite the extra-marital scandal which has seen Woods transformed from the revered into the ridiculed. "I heard the atmosphere was muted when he [Woods] played yesterday, but it will be like sheep – if people start to clap him then everybody will follow suit," said Rose. "He will be respected like everybody else because I think that's what an Open crowd does. They are here for the golf. If he gets playing well I think they will be excited and respond accordingly."
Yesterday Woods went out at 6.30am, starting from the third tee and ducking into the Old Course Hotel after hitting three balls in the thick rough on the 17th. His mood was as understated as it had been on Sunday – there was little of the new "cuddly" Tiger who engaged with the Masters crowd so willingly a few months ago. Regardless of the rumours of an imminent divorce, Woods had his game face on. It will be interesting to see how he reacts at 11am today when the British press he has never warmed to stage the latest inquisition. It says much about the bizarre world Woods now occupies, that his press conference is sure to attract as many headlines as his first round.
None of which will remotely interest the player ranked just two places below Woods. Lee Westwood said yesterday: "I've got my own problems to worry about." And as he limped off the first tee they were clear for all to see. A scan last week revealed he has a ruptured plantaris muscle in his right calf, an injury which normally requires six to eight weeks recuperation.
"Obviously with the biggest tournament on the calendar this week, I can't really afford to do that," he said. "So it's just a case of managing it, strapping it up, trying to keep the swelling from getting any worse and playing as well as I can. It doesn't hurt as much as it did in Paris, but it's obviously not right. I haven't had much preparation but they say, 'Beware the injured golfer'. Hopefully that will ring true."
Selected tee-off times
(Thursday) 08.20 L Glover (US); R McIlroy; T Clark (SA).
08.42 I Poulter; E Els (SA); S Cink (US).
09.09 T Woods (US); J Rose; C Villegas (Col).
09.20 P Harrington; R Ishikawa (Japan); T Watson (US).
09.53 D Clarke; M Weir (Can); D Love III (US).
13.31 P Casey;......... A Cabrera......... (Arg); R Fowler (US).
13.42 M A Jimenez (Sp); L Westwood;......... A Scott (Aus).
13.53 G McDowell; J Furyk (US); ......... G Ogilvy (Aus).
14.20 C Montgomerie; P Mickelson (US); R Goosen (SA).Reuse content