Woods began to show why even some of the greatest players are in awe of his potential

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Welcome Tiger Woods, welcome to Troon's trickery, its bounces, its temptations. One under at the turn but eight fairways missed and a capricious breeze getting up. Here and there a grimace, gestures of annoyance.

At odds with himself, unhappy with his game the tournament favourite was scrambling. The grass cuttings Woods used to test the wind told him little other than it was day for accuracy rather than distance. Keep the damn thing straight you could imagine him thinking.

Woods almost announced his presence in the championship by driving the 364-yard first. Instead the ball kicked left into a greenside bunker. "No justice," someone in the gallery said. "Away to go," a small boy called out but there was no answering smile. Things were already getting difficult.

Being the focus attention is something Woods has to live with. "I'd love his golf game," an old tournament pro recently said, "but not the pressures that come with it."

Woods' playing partners provided an interesting comparison. Steve Elkington with his elegant swing, Bernhard Langer's studied efficiency. Not men to be intimidated by power. Men with smart games and a great deal of experience they chose not to gamble, usually taking an iron off the tee no matter what Woods was up to.

He found rough again at the second and at the next landed on a hilltop. At the fourth Woods gave the gallery what they wanted unleashing a huge drive that skipped on to 422 yards, easily a hundred past Elkington and Langer. Just 135 to the pin, missed eagle putt; birdie.

So where now? How about bare ground alongside a stand overlooking the par three fifth which is where Woods landed. A fluffy pitch to save par and a birdie at the par-five sixth. Fairways did not appear to be on Woods' agenda but he was two under and his escapes were becoming reminiscent of a young Severiano Ballesteros.

Another misread green, another birdie chance gone and then acquaintance with the Postage Stamp's seductive contours. Moving along serenely Langer also was at two under and another birdie came his way. Woods, however, got it wrong, losing a seven iron enough in the breeze to find a greenside bunker. A decent enough shot from the sand but well past the pin to be left with a tricky downhill putt. Misreading it again he took two and was back to one under.

This didn't please Woods at all. He swung his putter angrily, tossed it at the bag and offended the game's etiquette by leaving the green before Elkington holed out for a double-bogey.

A par for Woods at the ninth and they were out in the far country, held up on the next tee by the group in front. The trick was working out just where in the rough Woods would put his next tee shot. To the right this time followed by a splendid second. Two putts, another save.

While they waited on the 11th tee a train approached slowly. Identifying Woods, the engineer gave a blast on the whistle. Woods smiled but the moment did not appear to relax him greatly. A blind shot over dunes ended up in a gorse bush. "Come on, Tiger," his young supporters shouted as they watched him stride towards another problem. One simply begat another. Taking a penalty out of a gorse bush he was too ambitious, moving the ball only 80 yards forward and still not on the fairway. "I got frustrated out there," he said afterwards, "but I never lost my patience and I'm proud of that."

For a while frustration looked like being the source of a crisis. Woods' fourth shot at the 11th went to the back of the green and a rare triple-bogey seven went on his card.

From there Woods began to show why even some of the greatest players golf has ever known are in awe of his potential. Not just his remarkable power, but his shot-making and the courage to hold a round together.

Making more than one birdie on the back nine at Troon is a difficult enough task at the best times but when a breeze gets up on the Forth of Clyde some smart play is called for. Few managed it yesterday, but Woods was up to the task. A birdie at 17 another at the last.

Accepting that he'd benefited eventually from a touch of good fortune, he said, "I'd like the wind to remain a big factor. If it's real tough like this it makes it easier to make up ground. You can shoot 66 and make up position. But if things are calm you can shoot 66 and remain in the same position. I got a good bounce at the last and I'm still in the ball game. I was disappointed not to birdie one of the first three holes and I hardly read a green right. But I'm still in the ball game."

If Woods starts hitting fairways today it could be altogether a different ball game.

Comments