The bridled nature with which he attacked the course was a sharp contrast to his reaction on the 18th green, when he let out weeks and months of pent-up sorrow as he sobbed into the arms of caddie Steve Williams.
“I guess I’m kind of the one who bottles things up a little bit and moves on, tries to deal with things in my own way. But at that moment it just came pouring out and of all the things that my father has meant to me and the game of golf,” he said afterwards. “I just wish he could have seen it one more time. in 2014, Rory McIlroy dismantled Royal Liverpool like he was blasting a tunnel through a mountain. The Northern Irishman was already the best driver in the world and proved it, taking a wholly different approach to Hoylake. The course was greener and lusher than the one Woods had picked apart some eight years earlier. McIlroy’s style of play was in vogue, too: Smash it down the fairway and play it from there.
Neither Woods nor McIlroy has yet had the opportunity to play this tee shot, because the hole hasn’t yet made its Open debut. In that way, I was already covering ground that they had not. But as I stepped up to the ball, determined to hit one close and conquer this devilish beauty, my trailblazing took a sudden turn. A sudden right turn, to be specific. I tweaked something in my swing thought, and when I instinctively looked up at the moment of impact to watch my ball’s flight it was coming out of a different window entirely, veering dangerously over the head of Tamara, our host and playing partner, before careening into an adjacent shed with an emphatic wham.
I’d delivered a pure, cold shank. The kind that sears itself in your muscle memory. Even now, hundreds of wedge swings later, I can still feel that point of impact. I can see that ball shooting right. (Continually re-watching the video probably doesn’t help.) And while I’m not saying neither Woods nor McIlroy has ever hit one — YouTube results remind us that McIlroy delivered hosel to ball as recently as last year’s Masters — but to do so with a little pitching wedge? Off a tee, no less? That’s far more rare.
Sean Zak, my playing partner, fared far better when faced with the same shot. You can see precisely how much better in the video below. But on a surreal day in which we studied Royal Liverpool’s century-plus of history, dined on its patio, made ourselves at home on its fairways and greens, this was the realest reminder of all: I could walk the same holes as golf’s greatest legends, but I wasn’t playing the same game. Not quite.