PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — The very idea that Tiger Woods won the 2019 Masters at age 43 after a long patch of harrowing immobility already caused a big wow, yet the aftermath that reached 93 days by Tuesday might serve even to enhance the wow.
Everything since April 14 has seemed to exhibit what physiological toll that win required. It has meant that as the four annual major tournaments have waned to their closing here this weekend, Woods arrives at this 148th British Open having played a mere 10 rounds since the Masters, six of those in majors. In his comments Tuesday at Royal Portrush, Woods addressed that toll.
“Well, getting myself into position to win the Masters was — it took a lot out of me,” he said. “That golf course puts so much stress on the system.”
Factor in the star-loaded leader board that complicated that day.
“If you look at the leader board after Francesco [Molinari] made the mistake at 12, it seemed like seven, eight guys had a chance to win the golf tournament with only, what, six holes to play,” Woods said. “And so it became very crowded. A lot of different scenarios happened. I was reading the leader board all the time trying to figure out what the number is going to be, who is on what hole. And it took quite a bit out of me.”
Factor in the presence of his two children at ages sufficient enough to be more than cognizant. Factor in the continuing presence of his mother. “So it was a very emotional week and one that I keep reliving,” he said.
By the time of the PGA Championship in May, he looked drained. After a 72-73 didn’t cut it for the cut, he had to remind that “I’m the Masters champion at 43 years old, and that’s a pretty good accomplishment.” He played the Memorial and finished tied for ninth. He shot 70-72-71-69 to finish tied for 21st at the U.S. Open.
That’s it, and that’s daunting to golf intelligentsia. Nobody saw Woods from Pebble Beach to here except when he posted a video on Instagram about being awake at 1 a.m. Eastern time to adapt to Portrush time, five hours ahead. Contrast all this with the very old days, such as 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2006, years in which he won multiple major titles. Between the first major (Masters) and last (PGA) in 2000, he tucked in four non-major tournaments and 24 competitive rounds. Make that five and 28 in 2005 and 2007.
By now, Woods has spent pre-major tournament Tuesdays after the Masters explaining how the body “just doesn’t move quite as fast when it’s a little bit older.” He stresses that the 17 events he played last year to regain status for various events felt like far too many. (This season, starting early last December, he’s on 10.) Asked if he deals with anything “outside the norm” physically this week, he winked and said: “Anything outside the norm? No.”
The room cracked up.
He said of his game: “It’s not quite as sharp as I’d like to have it right now. My touch around the greens is right where I need to have it. I still need to get the ball — the shape of the golf ball a little bit better than I am right now. . . . I’m going to have to be able to cut the ball, draw the ball, hit at different heights and move it all around. Today was a really good range session. I need another one tomorrow.”
The geeks and the wagerers and the geeky wagerers could go ahead and count him out if Woods were not Woods.
“Tiger, you can’t, you can never, you don’t know what he’s going to do, after his Masters victory,” said Darren Clarke, the 2011 Open champion and resident of Portrush who will strike the ceremonial first ball Thursday. “Here in Portrush we don’t have that many bunkers here. But the way that Tiger, when he won at St. Andrews (2000 and 2005) and Hoylake (2006), when he kept it out of the bunkers on both of those, didn’t he? Did he hit any — one at Hoylake, and keep them all out of St. Andrews. He knows how to get around a links golf course.
“Now, whether hitting an iron off all those tees is long enough to get around it. It’s not quite as fiery as it was last year obviously in Carnoustie. So if he does have to go to his driver — nothing wrong with his driver, I’m just saying he likes to be the master tactician, which he has been on many occasions. And so Tiger Woods playing, you can never write off Tiger Woods.”
Besides, it’s the Open, so Woods brought up Tom Watson, whose charge to the cusp of victory at age 59 at Turnberry in 2009 ended when one spiteful approach shot somehow worked its way through the green. Woods brought up Greg Norman, who was 53 when he led by two shots after three rounds at Birkdale in 2008. For aging golfers whose golf has hastened the aging, even for one who just won the Masters, the Open sings the most welcoming old songs.
“It does,” Woods said. “It allows the players that don’t hit the ball very far or carry the ball as far to run the golf ball out there. And plus, there is an art to playing links golf. It’s not, ‘Okay, I have 152 yards; bring out the automatic 9-iron and hit it 152.’ Here, 152 could be a little bump-and-run pitching wedge. It could be a chip 6-iron. It could be a lot of different things. So the more I’ve played over here and played under different conditions, being able to shape the golf ball both ways and really control trajectory, it allows you to control the ball on the ground. And as we know, it’s always moundy.”
He sounded like a sage, even if he might be tired.