The cheer started on the 10th, one long, spontaneous shout of excitement that broke out as the ball landed hard by the pin. It has been a long time since they have heard anything like it in Carnoustie, or anywhere else they play majors. It was the Tiger roar, unfamiliar, but unmistakable. The rush of excitement spread from that far corner right out across the rest of the links, and on around the rest of the world, wherever people were watching or listening to the golf. Tiger Woods was back, at last, and on the charge. They were chanting his name as he walked over the bridge and onto the green for his tap-in. “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!”
At quarter past four, when Woods made the sixth birdie of his round, he was six under, and had a share of the overall lead for the first time this week. Then he dropped a shot, the only one he lost all day, at the par-three 16th. But still, he finished in 66, five under. It was his best round at the Open since he shot 65 on the second day at Hoylake in 2006, and his best at any major since his 66 at the Masters in 2011.
It has been a long time since he has looked this good. And he’ll be right there on Sunday, lurking with intent, right behind the leaders.
Woods even seemed a little surprised by it himself. “That was good. That was good. I played well today. I really did,” he said. He could not even remember the last time he felt like this in a major. “It’s been a few years since I’ve felt like this, not like this in one of these big four events.”
Woods admitted he had been wondering if he would ever feel this way again. “Given what happened the last few years, I didn’t know if that would ever happen again, but here I am with a chance coming Sunday in a major championship. It’s going to be fun.”
It took Woods a while to warm to his work. He played very steady golf right through the first eight holes, the kind that had brought him through the first two days of the tournament in level par. Woods’ strategy has been to cut down on the risks, which means he has had fewer opportunities for rewards, too. He’s hardly trusted himself to use his driver all week, but has been playing irons off the tee, which is one reason why he’s leading the field in driving accuracy this week, when he is ranked 154th in that stat over the rest of the season.
The crowd have been pulling for him anyway, and as he came down the first fairway on Saturday there was a loud and affectionate shout of “Go on Tiger, we got your back in Glasgae!” He scrambled par there, with a chip out of the rough and a putt from eight feet. The par save he made at the other end of the round, on 18, was even more important. There, his tee-shot was one bad bounce away from the burn, but stopped right on the bank in thick seagrass rough. It was an outrageous bit of luck, but he had earned it.
From there, Woods laid-up with his second, then played on to the green with his third before he made a clutch putt from five feet.
“That was big for me just to not finish with two bogeys on the last three holes, playing as well as I did. As I said, I really didn’t hit a bad shot until 18. I lay up, which is perfect, up the left side, so I had an angle at that flag, only had 83 yards.” He said it was just like he “practised in the backyard”. In between those two par-saves, his golf was pretty much flawless, aside from the two bad putts that cost him that one bogey on 16.
The big difference in Woods’ play on Friday and Saturday was that he finally decided to start using his driver. “We just thought that, with some of the pin locations, that we could, if we missed on the correct side, that we could still have easy shots into the greens today,” he explained.
He used it at the 2nd, where he missed a mid-range putt for birdie, and again at the 6th, where he made one from a similar distance after a superb lag putt. It was his second birdie of the day. He had already made one at the 4th, where he played a three-wood off the tee.
Woods really started to burn when he came to the turn. He raked in a 40ft putt for a third birdie at the 9th, and rode that wave of good feeling right onto the 10th, where he hit a nine-iron in from 140 yards right up by the pin for a tap-in. An aggressive drive at 11 left him a two-putt birdie, and all of a sudden he had made three in a row. And everyone came running to watch him come home.
The run dried up at 12, the hardest hole on the course. But there was one more birdie on the par-five 14th, where he was a whisker away from making his eagle putt.
“At least I know that I will be there with a chance,” he said, “They won’t be too far out of reach. If they get to double digits, I’m still only five back,” Woods said. “That’s certainly doable.” There’s a generation of golfers who’ve no idea what it’s like to tangle with Woods on the Sunday of a major. They’re about to find out.