Tiger looks into eye of a storm and asks for more

TIGER Woods is keeping his fingers crossed for some winds of change. Having tried and failed to help himself, the 14-time major winner has been reduced to the kind of also-ran who needs everyone else to crumble to afford him the opportunity of even making the cut.

Tiger Woods, on the third green yesterday, hopes for a John Dalystyle miracle. Picture: Jane Barlow

Which makes him one of the few in the field to be relishing the formidable conditions being predicted for today.

On a day when the weather was overcast but relatively serene in terms of links golf, the pack squashed together yesterday, making his four-over 76 look even more grotesque and leaving him 11 shots off the lead.

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“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 really solid rounds, something like what J.D. [John Daly] did back in ’95,” he acknowledged. “If you shoot some good, solid rounds in tough conditions, players can move up the board. Hopefully I’m one of them.”

Although, why he thinks he can tackle this course with its defences up, when it was all but ready to roll over and have its tummy tickled yesterday is anyone’s guess. But he is clutching at straws and says he would be thrilled if he could perform the kind of miracles needed to secure even a play-off, similar to the one Daly successfully negotiated against Costantino Rocca two decades ago. Everyone who saw him play yesterday would be gobsmacked.

When others were piling on the birdies, he waited until the 14th to register his solitary sub-par hole. It wasn’t what the home galleries had been pining for. A past winner on the Old Course, winning the Claret Jug here in 2000 and 2005, he remains a firm favourite.

In his past four appearances in the Open at St Andrews he has only once shot higher than 67 in an opening round and that was in his debut, as an amateur, in 1995. Even then his score was two better than he carded yesterday. But, a proud history and easy familiarity with the home of golf gave him little advantage.

It wasn’t as tortured a day as those he has suffered recently, at Memorial and Chambers Bay, where he was humiliated by rounds of 85 and 80 respectively, and it possibly wasn’t even his most punishing at the Open, given the drookit memories of his third round at Muirfield in 2002. But neither was it anything approaching a vintage display. He started out with two poor iron shots at the first. The second, a wedge-shot approach, came up short, his ball taking a dunk in the Swilken Burn. It contributed to the first of his five bogeys.

“Discouraging, yeah. I was angered a little bit. But hey, I figured I’ve got 17 holes to fight through it, and hopefully I can make some birdies out there, which I didn’t do, but I hit it really good coming home.” He exaggerated the improvement in that back nine, surely in an attempt to bolster his own confidence rather than a misplaced belief he could con anyone else. But there was some progress. “I made some good clutch putts. I just needed to put those balls in position for birdies instead of for pars.”

“It is what it is,” he said afterwards, the frustration he had shown throughout the round replaced by stoicism. “I’ve got to just fight, fight through it. I mean, I know that today is a very benign day. Guys are going to go low. Guys have been shooting good numbers. Unfortunately, I did not do that. Hopefully the conditions will be tough tomorrow and I can put together a good round and we’ll move up the board progressively.”

The theory has tended to be that where there is a will, there is a way. The collective will was evident as Woods set off from the first tee, the words of encouragement so loud and vociferous that they were almost manic. “C’mon Tiger, you can do it!” was the most popular refrain. They were desperate pleas from a generation who grew up marvelling at a genius and, although faced with the reality of a hero who has not actually won one of the main four tournaments since 2008, they are not quite ready to say their farewells.

“I know some of you guys think I’m buried and done but I’m still right here in front of you,” Woods had said prior to the tournament teeing off. Listening to him then, he was back to being a contender. As his opening round unfolded most, unsurprisingly, were unconvinced. “Who are you and what have you done with Tiger Woods?” read one tweet. It was what so many were thinking. A man who used to win tournaments simply by turning up, his name on the leaderboard enough to have others baulk at the challenge they would have to rise to, he was a shrivelled version of that golfer, perplexed and a little lost.

For so much of the opening day he was caught in the eye of his own storm so it makes sense that he is hoping that the dark clouds gather over the rest of the field as well.