ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Tiger Woods, who returned to his sport’s oldest terrain on Tuesday, first tried succinct bluntness. Appropriately, he picked up history early enough. Then finally, as the North Sea winds pounded and pounded outside, he displayed a lingering, searing disgust.
The theme, as is so often the case in golf tournaments these days, was LIV Golf, the insurgent invitation series peppered with Saudi money and boastful defiance. And Woods, just before the start of what he said could be his last British Open at St Andrews, delivered his harshest and most sweeping condemnation yet: an unqualified, multi-part rebuke of defectors that he said was fabulously richer get away from shortcuts and ill-considered strategies.
“What these players are doing for guaranteed money, what’s the incentive to practice?” Woods asked on the Old Course. “What’s the incentive to go out there and make it in the dirt? You just get paid a lot of money up front and play a few events and play 54 holes.”
Not quite ready to give up the jab that early, he added almost immediately, “I can understand that 54 holes is almost like a mandate when you come to the senior tour – the guys are a little bit older and a little bit more nutty – but when you’re at that young age, and some of these kids are really kids that have moved from amateur golf to this organization, 72-hole testing is a part of it.
Such a test will begin on Thursday, when the Open is scheduled to begin. But Woods has won two opens on the Old Course and 17 months after the car accident that nearly took his right leg, his performance this week already has the air of an informal farewell at St Andrews.
If it ultimately turns out – it could be years before the answer is known – that Woods used part of his last major at the Old Course, his favorite spot on earth, to defend an order that had endured decades without significant threat Has.
LIV Golf has already used its hoard, largely derived from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, to attract some of the world’s most prominent players, including Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed. Although the Justice Department is investigating whether the PGA Tour’s efforts to maintain discipline among its ranks violated antitrust laws, the consequences for LIV golfers and their supporters are still mounting.
The Tour has penalized players, qualifying criteria for top tournaments could eventually shift, and Greg Norman, the Major champion-turned-LIV boss, has been effectively banned from the Open, a competition he won twice, for the time being.
Although Woods did not criticize current players by name, although he did complain that they “turned their backs on what allowed them to get to that position,” he pointedly said he had no objection to the exile that Norman even went from ruled out a Tuesday dinner by previous Open champions has protested as ‘petty’.
“Greg has done some things that I believe are not in the best interest of our game and we are returning to what is probably the most historic and storied place in our sport,” Woods said Tuesday. “I think it’s the right thing.”
Rory McIlroy, another Open winner, also said on Tuesday that he agreed with the decision of the R&A, organizers of the Open.
“I could see a day when he’ll certainly be welcome back,” said McIlroy. “But now with everything that’s going on we want to focus on the 150th Open championship and this is a celebration of a wonderful golf tournament and a wonderful game in general and I think it was the right decision for that. ”
For Woods, another run at St Andrews after the crash became a key goal, giving him hope for just walking for a time. The Open will be his third major since the crash; He finished 47th at the Masters tournament in April and retired from the PGA championship in May after the third round. He skipped the US Open in June to prepare for the trip to Scotland, where the terrain is more forgiving and where he has held a proud record since 1995, when he first played at the Open.
“The biggest challenge is that I don’t play tournament golf to prepare for the majors,” he said Tuesday. “I don’t bat in tournaments to know what works and what doesn’t.”
He has played several dozen holes at St Andrews in recent days, including nine on Tuesday, when the wind was so strong that Woods switched to a 6-iron from 120 yards out on the No. 10.
He has long reveled in the quirks and threats of St Andrews, where tides and winds do much to determine the difficulty of any given moment. Now he knows there may be few chances after his tee shot at 9:59 a.m. Eastern on Thursday.
“I will never play a full schedule again,” he said. “My body just doesn’t allow me to do that. I don’t know how many open championships I have left here at St Andrews, but I wanted this one. It started here for me in 1995, and if it ends here in 1922, it does. If not, then no. If I get a chance to play again that would be great but there’s no guarantee.”
Even navigating the Swilcan Bridge, the landmark of St. Andrews where Jack Nicklaus retired from professional sport, is a greater challenge.
“Honestly, now I have to be a little more careful on this spiked bridge,” said Woods, whose office has a picture of visiting the bridge in 1995 during his first practice lap at St Andrews. “I don’t have the mobility that I used to have. I almost ate it today.”