Tiger Woods’ best days on the golf course are long gone, buried in the aftermath of multiple back surgeries and a devastating car accident that almost killed him and had surgeons considering amputating his right leg.
There are still moments, however, that will be etched in his brain and his heart forever.
There was, for example, the final hole at last week’s British Open. His name was nowhere near the leader board, discarded in rounds of 78 and 75 as The Old Course at St. Andrews took its measure of the greatest golfer of his generation.
As Woods crossed over the historic Swilcan Bridge and walked down the 18th fairway, the cheers began to rain down on him, a loud tribute to Woods for all he had done in this game and this tournament.
The Open was back at St. Andrews for its 150th anniversary, a celebration of the ancient Old Course where so much of the game’s history had been written. Woods appreciates that history. He is a student of the game. And that, as much as anything, was why he was back for the Open, even though the game and the injuries have left him a shell of the player he once was.
The cheers rained down on him after those victories at the ancestral home of golf and now, once again, he heard the roar of the crowd. It was like old times for Tiger, like 2000 and 2005 when he conquered the historic Old Course and captured the Claret Jug that went with those victories.
Woods teared up as he heard those cheers on what may very well be his last trip around the Old Course’s 18th green. He acknowledged the crowd by waving his cap.
Woods has won 15 majors and his physical condition may never permit him to win another. He finished an un-Tiger-like 47th in the Masters, withdrew after three rounds at the PGA and failed to make the cut at the Open. He is a realist about his situation and that’s why hearing those cheers from the crowd at St. Andrews, perhaps for one last time, meant so much to him.
It was a tribute to who he has been and what he has meant to the game he holds so dear. He may never hold that championship jug again but he will always have the cheers he heard once more at No. 18 forever.