Whatever his misdemeanours, however many times he strides past groups of children and ignores their request for an autograph, Tiger Woods still generates support, possibly more so now.
The multitudes following him almost wished him to the top of the leader board. Once there, Woods then demonstrated how tough it is at the top.
Almost as soon as he emerged as leader all manner of things began to go awry. He finished five strokes under, three shots behind playing partner and new Open champion Francesco Molinari.
However, Woods stressed this was not the time for tears. Instead, he considered sustaining a challenge until the very last few holes something of a triumph. Carnoustie, where he first developed his love of links, had now provided him with something equally special: the knowledge he can compete again.
It wasn’t something he necessarily needed for his own benefit. Rather, that of his children, Sam and Charlie. At 11 and nine-years-old respectively, they have known only the labours.
There were struggles here too. But this was a better quality of struggle. Woods was out there making room for himself on the leader board again. Woods looked genuinely happy for playing partner Molinari, whose coronation seemed inevitable after the Italian birdied the last hole.
There were times when Woods looked the more obvious candidate of the two to lift the Claret Jug.
Situated in a faraway, almost secret location on the course, those few spectators – well, few compared to elsewhere on the course – gathered behind the ropes at the ninth hole witnessed a special moment.
As Woods was lining up his second shot, the scoreboard to the right of the fairway silently imparted some serious breaking news: he was joint leader. Woods’ name had silently slipped to the top. On the last day of the Open. At 4.20pm.
In a portent of what was to follow, he then found a bunker. But he scrambled to make par, as he had done at eight, and would do so again in the next hole, by which time the excitement on the course reached fever pitch: Woods was outright leader on seven under.
Almost as soon as he grasped what he most wanted, or what we might have presumed he most wanted, it turned to dust in his hands again. His iron off the tee went into the rough. His approach shot at 11 then hit the galleries and kicked into the rough behind the green. A double bogey, eventually – his first of the tournament.
The slide back had begun. There was a glimpse of hope when he made an unlikely birdie at 14. He had found the green – but it was a massive shared green, and he might have been nearer the fourth hole than the one he wanted. He wedged the ball off the green to about 40 feet. He holed the putt.
Carnoustie believed again. Imagine the seethe elsewhere. Other Open rota courses must have been aghast. What with Hogan, Watson, Lawrie/Van de Velde, has this patch of Angus land not been blessed with enough drama? Now it looked possible it could be the scene for perhaps the greatest tale of all: Tiger’s comeback major win, 11 years after his last. Bloody Carnoustie. Gets all the luck. Got the weather too.
It didn’t happen that way. Tiger slipped back again. Did anyone notice Molanari? Not really. Suddenly he was leading. Those reporters on the Tiger beat had missed the real story while focusing on Woods’ back nine travails.
But were they really travails? Did he really blow it? The man himself thought not. He welled up as he described what it meant for “pop” to prove he was a contender again.
Sam and Charlie rushed to him as he came off the 18th green: “Hopefully you’re proud of your pops for trying as hard as I did,” he told them.
He added: “It’s pretty emotional because they gave me some pretty significant hugs there and squeezed.
“I know that they know how much this championship means to me and how much it feels good to be back playing again. To me, it’s just so special to have them aware. I’ve won a lot of golf tournaments in my career, but they don’t remember any of them.”
When the Open was last held at Carnoustie, Sam had only just been born. Woods was No 1 in the world, had won 12 of 14 majors, and was seemingly waltzing towards overhauling Jack Nicklaus’ total of 18 major titles.
Then came The Fall, heralding the destruction of his family life, or at least the family life he then knew. Serious back issues also derailed his attempt(s) at a comeback.
He had an easy answer for those who wondered whether the frustration of failing to seal the deal outweighed the thrill of challenging once more.
“It was a blast,” he said. “I was saying earlier that I need to try and keep it in perspective because, at the beginning of the year, if they’d have said you’re playing the Open Championship, I would have said I’d be very lucky to do that.”
What it all means, who can tell? One tied-for-sixth place in a major doesn’t guarantee anything. Still, it felt special to be back in the swing with Woods again.
His next major win won’t be at Carnoustie. However, it’s where he revived a dream of one.