Like a drunk attempting to negotiate his way home from the pub, Tiger Woods stoated and scrambled his way around this Carnoustie course. There were steps forward, the odd sideways shimmy, a few wild swings and angry mutterings, and there were also steps back.
With progress frustratingly hard, there were moments of clarity, such as the 4th and 5th, the 11th and 14th holes. But although those advances were made, they were negated by three bogey stumbles on the front nine and another on his way to the finish, which saw him end his second round exactly where he started it, on level par.
One of those slip-ups came at the second when he drove his tee shot into the deep rough right of the fairway. With a tricky stance and the ball high above his feet, he still decided to go for an ambitious hook shot, sending his second into the galleries from close range, scattering them as they ducked for cover, hitting something as the ball came to an abrupt halt. He somehow managed to avoid seriously hurting any of the fans but the resulting bogey did damage Woods’ hopes of making an early dent in the scoring.
“I kept moving them back. I moved them back about 40 yards. I was trying to play for the grass, to wrap the shaft around there and hit it left, and I was just trying to hold the face open as much as I possibly could. It grabbed the shaft and smothered it.”
Another bogey at the third tested his mettle but, after missing the cut in four of his previous five major starts, including last month’s US Open at Shinnecock Hills, he was determined to book his place in the final two rounds of this one.
Hitting 73 per cent of his fairways and 72 per cent of his greens in regulation, he had a chance to ensure a greater say in those proceedings but could not get his putter to fully co-operate.
“But we certainly had a chance to get the ball down a little bit further and control it on the ground a little bit better. The ball wasn’t rolling 80, 90 yards like yesterday. It was a little bit easier in that regard.
“You can see a lot of guys are making birdies out there. The greens are a little bit smoother, and they roll a little bit better.”
Unable to make more of that, it leaves the 14-time major winner six shots off the overnight lead, held by 2015 winner Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner, who consolidated his first day advantage.
“I could have cleaned up the round just a little bit. I got off to not exactly the best start, being two over through three, but got it back,” said the former world No 1.
“The golf course was a little bit softer today, obviously. It rained, and we were able to get the ball down a little bit further, control the ball on the ground a little bit easier today, which was nice, and certainly birdies could be had out there.
“But I played a little bit better yesterday. Today wasn’t quite as good. I finally birdied the par 5 [14th]. So that’s a positive. Right now I’m six back. It will be a pretty packed leaderboard and I’m certainly right there in it.”
Three times Open Champion golfer in the past, it has been a long 12 years since he won the last of those titles but the fans who followed him around these Angus links in the rain would be delighted for him to rally and add to his tally tomorrow.
“You know, it’s incredible because I’ve had most of my success – obviously, twice over at St Andrews – over here. I’ve played well in Scotland but I haven’t played in The Open Championship for a couple of years so it’s fantastic to have the support we’ve had. For as many people to come out in the rain today to support us – and, obviously, nine is one of the furthest points on the course, but they walked all the way around cheering for us. Certainly it’s very appreciated.”
As Woods engaged with them and responded to their cheers, there were glimpses of a time when he was bold and imperious. The fist pumps and smiles when the ball dropped showed he is just as desperate as they are to recapture that, but the unguarded mutterings of “Oh God, not that way!” as shots sprayed off target and putting lines were misread signalled as well as any scorecard that he is still not there.