For good reason, the moment of the year in golf drew several nominations at the Golfweek editorial summit earlier this month. But once Tiger Woods crossing the Swilcan Burn Bridge was proposed the debate was over. It’s tough on some of these year-end awards to reach consensus, but there was unanimity as everyone nodded in agreement and we quickly moved on to the next category. Such was the goosebumps-on-goosebumps moment that was Tiger Woods potentially saying farewell to his competitive days at the Old Course at St. Andrews in the 150th British Open.
All that was missing from this moment was it happened on Friday afternoon with Woods missing the cut badly rather than being feted on Sunday. Woods, who won three Claret Jugs among his 15 major championship victories and two of them at St. Andrews, in 2000 and 2005, skipped the U.S. Open in order to allow his surgically repaired right leg and the rest of his ailing body to heal enough so he could even play. This was the one tournament Woods had circled on his calendar to play in 2022 and he wasn’t about to miss it.
And so it didn’t really matter that he was 9 over and destined to miss the cut by a long shot. Fans had arrived early that morning and assembled around the 18th hole. They waited for Woods to approach the famed Swilcan Bridge that leads players over the burn, which meanders across the first and 18th holes, and onto the 18th fairway.
Playing competitors Matt Fitzpatrick and Max Homa as well as Woods’ caddie Joe LaCava hovered behind as Woods approached the bridge alone, the stage set for the monumental moment. Here is where Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson before him took turns bidding adieu to the Old Grey Toon. Woods slowed his walk and lifted his white Nike cap in appreciation but never truly broke stride for the long ceremonial stop that many expected. Did that signal that Woods expected to have at least one more spin around the Old Course down the road? Not even he knows.
“I don’t know if I ever get back to playing St. Andrews in a British Open, but to be able to experience that maybe one last time at this level was very special to me,” he said afterward. “That was my favorite golf course in the whole world, and if that was it, that was it, to be able to possibly finish up my career there, I don’t know. That’s one of the reasons why I was kind of emotional because I don’t know if I’ll ever play St. Andrews again. I’ll play Open Championships in the future but I don’t know if I’ll be around when it comes back there again.”
As Golfweek’s Steve DiMeglio wrote, “There were tears in his eyes, weight in his heart.”
“It’s very emotional for me,’’ Woods said. “I had a few tears. The warmth and the ovation at 18, it got to me. I’m not one who gets very teary-eyed very often about anything.’’
Woods speculated that the Open likely won’t return to St. Andrews until 2030 when he’d be 53 years old.
“I don’t know if I will be physically able to play by then,’’ he said. “So, to me, it felt like this might have been my last British Open here at St. Andrews.’’
Fans weren’t the only ones to shower Woods with applause as he walked the 18th fairway. Rory McIlroy played nearby on the first fairway and tipped his cap to the golfer who inspired him to take up the game. And when Woods reached the 18th green, Justin Thomas had just teed off and did likewise.
“It was just incredible,” Woods said. “The nods I was getting from guys as they were going out and I was coming in, just the respect, that was pretty neat. And from a players’ fraternity level, it’s neat to see that and feel that.”
Fitzpatrick said the scene “gave me goosebumps,’’ adding, “It’s something that will live with me forever.’’
And with all of us. That’s why it was the moment of the year.