An instinct for survival kept Tiger Woods’s chances of a fourth Open crown, and a first major title for five years, alive yesterday.
A bad start on a difficult day and things can go from bad to worse. They did for many. Not for Woods. His opening drive finished in the rough that was so bad it was unplayable. A bogey was the inevitable result.
For others it was the greens that were unplayable, so much did they dry out. But Woods knew this was a day to stay in contention rather than hit the front. Three birdies in four holes to start the back nine achieved that. Putts galore went in but at the 14th he had a sharp reminder of how tricky it was getting when he putted off the green. “It really wasn’t that bad a putt,” he said.
A two-under-par 69 left Woods three off the lead, no damage done. The elbow injury that hampered his chances at the US Open last month no longer troubled him. It was a day to simply grind away and, with the help of 10 single-putt greens, he managed it. “It was tough,” he said. “The golf course progressively got more dried out and more difficult as we played. I’m pleased to shoot anything under par.
“I could see how some guys were complaining about it,” he said. “It was so difficult to keep the ball below the hole and in the right spot. Even with a lag-putt at the right speed it was hard to get the ball close.”
Another way of tackling the circumstances was exhibited by Miguel Angel Jimenez who had four birdies in the first five holes and hung on for a 68. During the winter he broke his leg while skiing. He was out of the game for four months and only started back on tour in May. “I never think if my career is over or not,” he said. “If you are breaking your leg at 30 years old, you could say, OK, I’m going to have a sabbatical year. But at 49 you don’t want to spend any sabbatical day.”
Jimenez plays links golf the same way he speaks English: somehow it all makes sense even if bits of it defy comprehension. He said of the accident: “You cannot distract for anything because the bull can take you. The more important thing is to enjoy yourself and to be happy on the course,” he said. With the firm conditions frustrating many others, Jimenez was true to his words. It is also a mantra he has passed on to others.
Rafael Cabrera-Bello, who opened with a 67 to be one stroke behind the leader, is a different animal to Jimenez. From the island of Gran Canaria, he is 20 years younger and has a vastly more athletic frame. He does not smoke. He is of a different generation who seek power as a primary virtue. But Jimenez is still his mentor. “He has a great attitude, different but a very admirable way of how he looks at golf and how he makes golf part of his life,” Cabrera-Bello said. “He has always been very helpful.
“The thing I have tried to copy is that every time Miguel tees up in a tournament, he’s given himself everything that he needs to be comfortable, to feel relaxed and to feel that he’s enjoying every second of that week. Whether it is his wines or cigars, he gives them to himself to give him the best chance to perform. My approach is different, I like to do a lot of sports and my favourite hobby is surfing, but I try to do stuff so that I get to the first tee enjoying myself as much as Miguel does.”