2018 British Open: Tiger Woods holds brief lead, laments opportunity lost

Jul 22, 2018; Carnoustie, Angus, SCT; Tiger Woods walks across the bridge on the 18th during the final round of The Open Championship golf tournament at Carnoustie Golf Links. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports Thomas J. Russo/USA TODAY Sports

2018 British Open: Tiger Woods holds brief lead, laments opportunity lost

2018 British Open

2018 British Open: Tiger Woods holds brief lead, laments opportunity lost

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tiger Woods said plenty after his thrilling weekend charge at the British Open. His most meaningful words were shared with his 11-year-old daughter Sam and his 9-year-old son Charlie.

“I told them I tried and I said, ‘Hopefully you’re proud of your pops for trying as hard as he did.’”

They were standing with members of Woods’ team and girlfriend Erica Herman at the ninth hole during the final round, which Woods started four off the lead. By the time he got to his ball in the fairway he was tied for the lead at 7 under.

Then it happened.

As the leaders continued to fall back with winds in the 20-mph range, Woods held strong with an up-and-down par save from a front right bunker at nine. Xander Schauffele made double bogey at seven. And for the first time since the 2009 PGA Championship, Woods held the solo lead in the final round of a major.

It was worth the wait.

“It didn’t feel any different,” Woods said. “It didn’t feel any different to be next to the lead and knowing what I need to do. I’ve done it so many different ways. … It felt great to be a part of the mix and build my way into the championship. Today was a day that I had a great opportunity.”

Just like old times, he said.

The thing is that nine years is a long time and it was something brand new for an entire generation of fans. His kids are two of them.

“It’s just so special to have them aware because I’ve won a lot of golf tournaments in my career, but they don’t remember them,” Woods said. “The only thing they’ve seen is my struggles and the pain I was going through.”

They saw him among a throng of fans both Scottish and American at Carnoustie, a healthy mix of both lining the fairways and given away by their cries of either “Tiger” or “Tigarrr.”

One of those fans, 34-year-old Colin Hauck from Annapolis, Md., won’t ever forget it. Woods’ errant approach shot into 11 hit his cell phone out of his hand while he was shooting video. Woods took a quick look at his tricky third shot, then walked over to Hauck, shook his hand, apologized and handed him an autographed glove.

There was an extreme shortage of karma around the 11th green at Carnoustie that afternoon, where Woods made his first double bogey of the tournament and never regained the lead. All told it only lasted about 45 minutes and playing partner Francesco Molinari wound up with the Claret Jug.

“A little ticked off at myself for sure,” Woods said. “I had a chance starting that back nine to do something and I didn’t do it.”

After a short birdie miss at 18 Woods tapped in for par, took off his hat and raised his putter to acknowledge the fans that have welcomed him back with open arms all year long.

Jul 22, 2018; Carnoustie, Angus, SCT; Tiger Woods reacts to a heckler in the crowd during his swing of his tee shot on the 18th during the final round of The Open Championship golf tournament at Carnoustie Golf Links. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Even though a spectator yelled in the middle of Woods’ backswing on the 18th tee, he still managed a solid drive. (Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports)

“It was a blast,” Woods said.

His return to major relevance after a five-year layoff included three even-par rounds of 71 and a 5-under 66 in Round 3 that won’t soon be forgotten, setting the stage for potentially one of the great Sundays in the 147-year history of this tournament.

The end result wasn’t that for anyone outside Molinari’s immediate family, but Woods’ 5-under 279 and T-6 finish – his best at a major since the 2013 Masters – will hold our complete attention until he gives it another major go in the PGA Championship at Bellerive. Until he tries again.

That’s really what this comeback has always been about, and it’s way more compelling to watch someone put it all on the line after they’ve tried and failed. Isn’t that why Phil Mickelson was so popular when he trailed Woods eight majors to none before the 2004 Masters?

Speaking of the Masters, go back and watch the 2005 replay on YouTube sometime. During that final-round broadcast you might be surprised to hear talk of all the criticism Woods had received for a nearly three-year major drought. He wasn’t always invincible, even if that’s how we remember it.

Back then it was all about the golf, though. Did he win or not? Next question.

There are a lot of questions now and many will go unanswered, but when he went full recoil out of a nasty fairway bunker on 10 to save par and maintain the outright lead it was old-school Tiger all the way.

We’ve all wondered how old school Woods would do against new school Tour players when it really counted and we got our first taste at Carnoustie. That was the best part of it all. The chance for a playoff featuring Woods and Jordan Spieth or Rory McIlroy was so good, and it was legitimately on the table.

Further down on the list of significance but big for Woods nonetheless was the fact that he qualified for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club. He’s won eight times there already and got in on the number after moving to No. 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking, ensuring a chance at No. 9 before the event leaves Firestone in 2019.

For a bit of perspective, he was No. 69 in the world entering Carnoustie. He was No. 668 when he began this comeback at the Hero World Challenge in December.

We still don’t know if he’ll eventually get to major No. 15, but it’s been incredible to watch him try. Gwk

(Note: This story appears in the August 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

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