Of the many wayward opening tee shots Tiger Woods has hit in his career, finding the Barry Burn well left of the first fairway at Carnoustie in the second round of the 2007 Open Championship is arguably the worst of the lot. Paul Lawrie certainly thinks so. “He hit a low horrible pull hook off the first into the water,” recalled the Aberdonian, one of his playing partners that day on the Angus coast. “I mean, for a good player that’s a terrible shot.”
That Woods, having already overcome being similarly wayward at times to open with a 69, recovered from his horrible start to salvage a 74 before going on to end up close to the top ten in an event won by Padraig Harrington was one of the most impressive displays Lawrie has ever witnessed.
“The biggest thing I remember from it was how poorly he played in those first two days and yet he still finished 12th in the tournament,” he added. “That’s when you learn that, ‘my God, hitting it has got nothing to do with how you actually perform and score’. Because literally he hit it sideways for two days and still got himself in contention.”
Eight years after winning at the same venue, Lawrie missed the cut on that occasion but was honoured to find himself in Woods’ company for 36 holes. “It was a really nice touch that they gave me him to play with after my win at Carnoustie,” he admitted. “I remember Peter Dawson (the R&A chief executive at the time) coming over and saying ‘we’re giving you Tiger to play with’ and I thought ‘wow, way to go’.
“Then you get on the first tee and there’s people everywhere, even inside the ropes. I remember there was an unbelievable amount of people walking round just with that group, because the third person was Justin Rose. It was just mayhem, but you’ve got to deal with that, it’s just part of what Tiger brings to the game.”
Carnoustie is bracing itself for a new wave of Tiger-mania after the three-time Claret Jug winner confirmed he will be playing in the 147th Open Championship in July. It will be his first appearance in the event since 2015 and that prospect became even more exciting after the 42-year-old got himself in the mix in the Players Championship last weekend before finishing joint 11th behind Webb Simpson.
“It’s amazing,” admitted Lawrie of how Woods has performed over the past few months – he’s now 80th in world after starting the year ranked 656th – since fearing his career might have been over following four back surgeries in three years. “He’s got even more speed than he had before and he’s hitting it miles. It’s great for everyone to see him back – but not just that, he’s back hitting speeds higher than he had before. I can see him winning again, there’s no question.”
Tommy Fleetwood, the European No 1, played with Woods for the first time at The Masters earlier this year and commented afterwards that he’d been one of the easiest he’d ever been paired with. “He’s absolutely cool to play with,” said Lawrie, speaking at the launch of a signature blend being produced by Loch Lomond Whiskies to mark his Open Championship victory 19 years ago, in agreeing with that sentiment. “I’ve played with him a few times and I’ve never had a problem with him or felt, ‘man, he’s using things here in his favour’. I never felt that at all.
“He’s changed a lot but haven’t we all. I’ve changed a lot from when I was an angry young man (laughing). He thought he was done a few months ago. He couldn’t see himself playing again, never mind getting in contention. He sees it as a massive opportunity to enjoy it and to freewheel. That comes over to me leaps and bounds when you watch him on the telly. He looks as though he’s enjoying it, which is great. There’s no question that he is back to the level he was at before.”
Rose, who is in the same management company as Woods, agrees. “I was a bit surprised that he didn’t do so well at the Masters then Quail Hollow (in the Wells Fargo Championship),” said the Englishman as he confirmed a trip to Gullane for this summer’s Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open. “But last weekend he again showed that he has that gear. When you see Tiger Woods making birdies, people get really excited by watching him get into that flow. I think he’s close to winning. We’re all looking for that little spark – and it’s not something you can force. So he has to be patient. But his game and skill set is ready to do the business.”