Tiger Woods sees his hopes of Open glory disappear into Swilcan Burn

The Open Championship’s official slogan for this year – ‘everything has led to this’ – is a bit too ‘live, laugh, love’ to have its intended effect of invoking both the history of St Andrews and a misty-eyed sense of destiny for those out on the Old Course. But as Tiger Woods stood on the 8th tee with those exact words emblazoned on the grandstand behind him, reeling from a double bogey on the 7th, it did feel oddly fitting.

Nobody here balances history and destiny quite like Tiger. What has been before, and what could come again. Three times an Open champion (twice at St Andrews), Woods considers this his “favourite course” and it is the place where the finest golfer of his generation – possibly of all time – played his finest ever tournament, to win in 2000 by eight shots.

But the future, both immediate and long term, remains unclear. Devoid of competitive golf, Woods’s touch deserted him. He signed for a six-over-par 78.

Nobody had really expected Woods to win another Claret Jug this week. The fact that he has made it here at all is reason enough to celebrate, less than 18 months after a car crash left his right leg with multiple open fractures, as well as ankle trauma and tissue damage.

He was told by doctors he would never play competitive golf again. And yet, here we are.

Physically at least, he seems to be in much better shape. Having withdrawn mid-tournament from both the Masters and the PGA Championship earlier this year, Woods arrived at St Andrews on Saturday re-energised, sticking the boot into LIV during his press conferences and heading out for practice rounds with a new-found ferocity.

By midday on Tuesday, he had walked 58 holes on the Old Course, and spoke about being in contention come Sunday. Easy Tiger.

It is not unreasonable to say that Woods’s hopes of an unlikely fourth Open title were extinguished as early as the 1st hole. After a rapturous reception on the tee box and an excellent drive down the middle of that famous and inviting fairway, Woods chunked his approach so badly that dirt blew back into his face and his ball – after two hops – fell into Swilcan Burn.

A dropped shot and poor chip later, he missed a makeable putt to start with a double bogey. The gallery fell quiet, and after back-to-back bogeys on the 3rd and 4th holes, Woods was four over. He never recovered.

Woods’s round was littered with errors, not least with the double bogeys at the 1st and the 7th, but the missed opportunities to make birdie or save par were equally painful to watch. Having reached the fringe of the green in two at the par-five 5th, Woods rolled a putt up a ridge and 30ft past the hole. From the light rough at the 16th, he ballooned his approach and comfortably cleared the green.

He would three-putt to go back to six over, clenching his jaw and looking to the skies for inspiration as he made his way to the Road Hole. At the 18th, his putting was so bad that he went from an eagle opportunity to being thankful for par.

Thursday’s early starters, including clubhouse leader Cameron Young at eight under par and Rory McIlroy at six under, did not have to contend with the stronger wind that Woods battled in the afternoon. But he is not in the habit of making excuses.

“It was probably the highest score I could have shot”, admitted Woods, who is tied for 146th place. “Didn’t get off to a great start and I wasn’t very good on the greens. Every putt I left short. The greens were very firm but slow. It’s an interesting combo and I struggled.

“It was a lot easier today, physically, than it has been the other two [majors this year], for sure. This was always on the calendar to hopefully be well enough to play it. And I am. And just didn’t do a very good job of it.

“Looks like I’m going to have to shoot 66 tomorrow to have a chance [of making the cut]. So obviously it has been done. Guys did it today. And that’s my responsibility tomorrow is to go ahead and do it. Need to do it.”

One credible factor for Woods’s inconsistency – which also affected playing partners Max Homa and US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick – was that play was excruciatingly slow, owing to the traffic brought about the seven shared greens and eight shared fairways at St Andrews. Any momentum that Woods gained by birdies at the 9th and 10th evaporated. It took more than six hours to complete his round. The 18th grandstand was half-empty at 9pm as Woods finished. “We were getting waved up,” sighed Woods afterwards. “It was a long, slow day.”

The frustrating thing is that St Andrews is a place that intrinsically suits him. For all the rippling undulation on the fairways and greens, the Old Course does not have any big inclines that places stress on that leg or a fused spine that has endured four surgeries.

The winner here on Sunday will be a thinker, and few can claim to have the smarts and course knowledge that the 46-year-old possesses. For those seeking to take something positive from the day, there were a few moments: a smile to his caddie after saving par at 12 and a mammoth 412 yard-drive on the par-five 14th, where he would make birdie.

A wounded Tiger will return on Friday. The cut may prove out of reach, but here’s hoping he has some fun, whatever that means for his scorecard.

Let’s be thankful for what we’ve got. There is joy in Woods being able to walk again. It’s OK that he cannot yet run.