Tiger Woods has to laugh... it's either that or cry at The Open 2015

Former World No 1 endures difficult opening round

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The Independent Online

Pray for Tiger. There will be a memorial service for Tiger Woods tomorrow evening on the Swilcan Bridge where his golf clubs will be snapped and the ashes of his game will be scattered into the burn. In honour of the world No 241, mourners are asked to wear red shirts and make air punches and guttural screams. No flowers, please. Donations to the Tiger Woods Home For Lost Geniuses.

Tom Watson might not be the only legend crying on the Swilcan Bridge. This could be Tiger’s farewell at the home of golf, too. Wonder if he has a 2020 vision. It is  difficult to see him being back here for the Open in five years if he fails to find a way out of this fog.

Of course, the 14-times major winner and former world No 1 has had more comebacks than The Eagles and Status Quo. But even Tiger must know nothing remains the same forever and he would not recognise an eagle these days if it swooped to pinch the swoosh off his cap. He’s living in golf’s Hotel California. His game has checked out but he can never leave.

He will probably shoot 63 on Friday in the eye of the storm that is forecast for St Andrews and flick a Churchillian-fingered salute to his critics. But you would not bet a ball marker on it. After a four-over-par 76, his worst first-round score of his Open Championship career, only two players were below him of those that had completed their rounds.

One of them was Australian Rodney Pampling, who gained notoriety in 1999 when he led after the first round then missed the cut to prompt the headline “Rodney, you plonker!” Woods chunked his chip at the first hole into the burn in front of the green like a weekend hacker. “Tiger, you dipstick!”

On the opening holes of his last eight majors, Tiger has tripped up with six bogeys and just two pars. His mate Jason Day is one of his playing partners for the first two rounds, along with Louis Oosthuizen – winner in 2010 when the Open was last held here. They are 10 shots and nine shots ahead of Tiger respectively after rounds of 66 and 67.

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Day suffers from vertigo and said he is frightened of falling on his face on the course. Woods has fallen on his backside and looks frightened that he might not be able to get back up again. He is a sorry figure of the champion he once was.

He walked off the 18th green to polite applause. A minute’s silence and the laying of a wreath by the flag would have been more appropriate. What a contrast to the standing ovations of 2000 and 2005 when he was at his imperious and unbeatable best. 

Day stood after his round to pay a beautiful and moving tribute to Tiger. “He was my idol growing up. That’s why I chased the dream to become a professional. It’s tough to see your idol struggle,” Day said. “The good thing about it is I saw him struggle before and he came back and got to  No 1. So I know he can get out of this. It just depends on how much he wants it.”

Woods was reduced to laughing in the face of adversity walking down the 14th fairway. It was either that or cry. Gallows humour. The old Tiger rarely broke out of his game face – he once blanked his own mother at the Masters. But this felt like an old Tiger, the 39-year-old who hasn’t won a major since 2008 coming to terms with the fact that his superpowers are receding at the same speed as his hairline.

“He had that killer instinct,” Day said – the past tense suggesting that Day believes Tiger no longer has it. “Today he was just struggling and needed to put his mind somewhere else,” Day said of his mate’s laughing fit. “Before, the way he used to get back was to get pissed off with himself to get where he needed to be mentally.”

It’s no laughing matter. It’s sad to witness. Tiger seems lost technically and mentally. He has the swing thoughts of four different coaches rattling around in his head. He looked more hangdog than Droopy lolloping around the Old Course that he not once but twice brought to its knees. He looked as exposed on the links as those streakers painted in Tiger stripes that used to dance around him when he was in his pomp.

Tiger is still Elvis but he’s in his Vegas years, forgetting his words and stumbling around the stage. Everything works fine in rehearsals on the practice ground, but when the curtain rises, he freezes. The multiple major champion has stage fright.

Tiger, as one would expect, is not ready to admit defeat and lie down and turn up his toes yet. Bravado maybe? “I’ve got to just fight, fight through it,” he said. “I know today is a very benign day and guys have been shooting good numbers. Unfortunately I did not do that.”

Motivation is never a problem, he said: “Discouraging, yeah. I was angered. I’m so far back and the leaderboard is so bunched that in order for me to get in there by Sunday, I’m going to have to have the conditions tough and then put together some solid rounds like JD [John Daly] did in ’95,” Woods said. “Players can move up. Hopefully I’m one of them.” Denial perhaps?

Woods had a putt for a birdie at the 18th to at least finish with a flourish and give his fans something to cheer. He missed. The Old Lady, as the locals call the Old Course, gave him nothing. He acknowledged the crowd. Not waving, but drowning.

On his way to the scorer’s hut to scribble his moniker on a miserable looking scorecard, another old lady shouted to him. “Tiger, thank  you, thank you, thank you, thank you,” she said. “You’re my man. Always will be.” Tiger glanced at her, halted his stride, and held out his hand for her to touch as he walked by.

It felt sad. It felt just like  a goodbye.

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