As the applause swelled and his labored steps drew him closer to the big yellow leaderboard, Tiger Woods could no longer win the battle against his emotions.
There had been no sentimental pause on the Swilcan Bridge, for this is still a man who does not easily succumb to defeat. But the hat tips from his peers and the outpouring of support from the golf-mad town where he is an adopted son was too much for the 46-year-old to handle. And so on this sunny Friday afternoon, Woods let go and let us in.
“I’m not one who gets very teary-eyed very often about anything,” Woods said. “But when it comes to the game and the passing on, just the transition, I was lucky enough in ’95 to watch Arnold [Palmer] hit his first tee shot in the second round as I was going to the range.
“And I could hear Jack [Nicklaus] playing his last one [in 2005]. I was probably about four holes behind him. But just to hear the ovations getting louder and louder and louder, I felt that as I was coming in [this year]. The people knew that I wasn’t going to make the cut at the number I was. But the ovations got louder as I was coming home. And that to me was — it felt, just the respect. I’ve always respected this event. I’ve always respected the traditions of the game.”
Woods double-bogeyed his first hole Thursday and never bounced back, submitting a 78-75 start that put the cut line miles out of reach. None of that mattered as walked the same terrain that legends like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer did before exiting stage left from St. Andrews.
He may be much younger than they were, but Woods’ myriad health concerns won’t get easier to navigate as he approaches 50. And with an expanded Open rota, the Old Course likely won’t host again this decade.
Acknowledging the inevitable, Woods was uncommonly candid about his prospects of returning to his favorite course.
“That’s when I started to realize, hey, the next time it comes around here, I might not be around,” Woods said of his reception on the 18th hole.