Ten minutes before the start of the World Cup final and two-thirds of the way through the Wimbledon men’s equivalent, Tiger Woods made his way to the first tee for his first sighting at an Open for three years.
If the plan was to keep his initial preparations as low-key as possible, he could not have picked a more appropriate time to play.
In the tented village, a few people moved away from the big screen showing the footie to watch, but that was about all.
Tiger Woods could draw only a sparse crowd on Sunday afternoon at Carnoustie Golf Club
Spectators were pre-occupied with the Wimbledon and World Cup finals which were ongoing
Tiger took one look at the burnished fairway in front of him, reached for a long iron, and struck one of those fabulous ‘stinger’ shots he has perfected over the years, the ball barely rising 15 feet off the ground and finishing in the middle of the fairway.
Awaiting him was a course not dissimilar to the hard and fast links at Hoylake in 2006, where Woods emerged the winner while hitting just one driver all week.
This one is going to be all about strategy, too, and perhaps Woods can draw upon what he did at Royal Liverpool 12 years ago when he delivered perhaps the ultimate Open masterclass.
Woods can draw on his Open masterclass 12 years ago at Royal Liverpool this time around
A lot of water has passed along the Barry Burn since then, of course, not to mention countless debilitating operations in Woods’s case. But his delight in being back at The Open was plain.
‘This is the oldest championship we have in our sport and I have missed it,’ he said afterwards.
With the wind gathering and the weather cooling, he restricted himself to eight holes, but it was enough to get an idea of the test ahead.
Speaking after eight practice holes, Woods admits he has ‘missed’ competing at The Open
‘It’s going to be one of those weeks where the fairways are faster than the greens,’ he said.
‘I hit a seven-iron off the tee on one par four to stay short of a hazard 300 yards from the tee, that’s how fast it’s playing.
‘Now I have a lot of work ahead of me over the next three days. It’s not a matter of reacquainting myself with links golf but the fact we rarely see fairways this quick.’
The last time Woods travelled overseas was to Dubai last year when his back seized up and he would need his fusion operation. No such problems this time.
His appearance at Carnoustie is only his second overseas trip since playing in Dubai last year
‘My back feels great,’ said the 42-year-old. ‘One of the good things about all the strength training I have been doing is I have got it to the point where it now feels fine every day.’
Sunday it might have been, but out on the links was a stellar cast including Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm, US Open champion Brooks Koepka and world Nos 1 and 2, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas.
There was also Padraig Harrington, winner the last time The Open was at Carnoustie in 2007.
The Irishman couldn’t help but look back and laugh. Eleven years ago on the final day, he drove into the Barry Burn at the 18th and had 228 yards left for his approach.
For those that did turn out to see the American, they got a taste of what might be to come
In his first practice round this time, he drove into the burn once more, only this time where it crosses in front of the green, a distance of 457 yards.
‘Not for a minute did I think the burn was in range because it wasn’t even playing particularly downwind, but imagine if it wasn’t there?’ he said.
‘We’d see players hitting the green with their tee shots.’
Given the 18th just happens to measure 499 yards, thank goodness you might think for Carnoustie’s formidable and strategic hazards, standing in the way of the first 500-yard drive in Open history.