TIGER Woods was ushered off the course after jumping the gun with his practice round at Muirfield yesterday before the world No 1 was accused of “lacking self-belief” in majors by three-time Open champion Nick Faldo.
Renowned for being up at the crack of dawn to play his practice rounds in the world’s oldest major, Woods teed off at the tenth hole at 6.40am despite a sign informing players that “practice prior to 7am or after 4pm is strictly prohibited to allow the greenkeeping staff to prepare the course”.
After hitting two balls, the 14-times major winner was informed by a security officer that he shouldn’t be on the course and, following a short discussion, he headed off to the practice green to hit a few putts.
It appeared that Woods’ presence on the course before the official opening time had only been brought to light when two of his fellow Americans, Brandt Snedeker and Billy Horschel, tried to go off the first tee around the same time.
Woods eventually played the first hole instead with world No 2 Rory McIlroy before jumping across to the 17th then playing the back nine, again watched by girlfriend Lindsey Vonn.
As he did that, Peter Dawson, the R&A’s chief executive, drove out in a buggy to have a word with Woods, but there was no suggestion that he’d been rebuked for being out on the course earlier than permitted.
“The practice tee opens at 7am and that was communicated to the players,” said an Open Championship spokesman. “This is to help spectators see as much play as possible and to give the greenkeepers sufficient time to prepare the course to the highest standard each morning.”
Faldo, who won at Muirfield in both 1987 and 1992, cast doubt on Woods’ chances of adding to his major tally this week and also said he believes McIlroy has to get back to “concentrating on golf” in order to recapture his best form.
“Tiger is in a different mode when he’s winning regular tournaments, but he gets to majors and something happens,” said the Englishman. “As I call it, the self-belief you have to have, maybe there’s a little dent in there.
“He hits the wrong shot at the wrong time, where before Tiger would hit the right shot at the right time.”
Turning To McIlroy, Faldo appeared to aim a dig at him for “still testing clubs” and urged the 23-year-old to forget about other things going on his life to ensure he doesn’t get to the end of his career looking back with regret.
“You have a window of opportunity – that’s my only words of wisdom to Rory,” was his message to the two-times major winner, who is coming into this event without having played competitively since missing the cut in the Irish Open nearly three weeks ago.
“You probably have a 20-year window as an athlete. When you retire in your 40s or 50s, you’ll hopefully have another 40 years to enjoy it. So concentrate on golf, nothing else. As my career went on, I got involved in business and other things – your concentration goes. You need 100 per cent concentration – practising off the course as well. You need to go to the club at nine in the morning, hit balls all day long and leave at five. You think ‘cool, that was great’ and you’ve been really productive. You have to do that.”
On a fast-running course described by Faldo as being like “a main road” due to its firmness, Woods will tee off in Thursday’s opening round in the afternoon in the company of two 2010 major winners, Graeme McDowell (US Open) and Louis Oosthuizen (Open Championship).
McIlroy, in the other half of the draw, has been paired with newly-crowned Scottish Open champion Phil Mickelson and Japan’s Hideki Matasuyama, while Ernie Els, the defending champion and bidding to repeat his win here in 2002, is out with Justin Rose, winner of the US Open at Merion last month, and Brandt Snedeker, the halfway leader at Lytham 12 months ago.
Australian Peter Senior has been handed the honour of hitting the opening blow in the event’s 142nd staging, in which Faldo plays with five-time Open champion Tom Watson and Fred Couples, the Senior Open champion.
One of ten Scots in the line-up, Stephen Gallacher will have a familiar face for company in Australian Geoff Ogilvy, the former US Open champion. “That’s amazing,” said the Dubai Desert Classic champion when he read the draw. “I’ve played with Ogilvy five times and four years in a row in a major.”
Making his first appearance in the event in his native Lothians, Gallacher added: “Nobody can complain about the course this week It’s absolutely perfect. The rough looks horrendous, but when you get there it’s not too thick.”