The Open 2019: Can Tiger Woods roar at Royal Portrush?
The last time Tiger Woods successfully stalked an Open championship he did so at dawn, rising with the dew sweepers to plot a path to glory, only the most dedicated fans there to witness his majesty.
Much has changed since that summer at Hoylake and the Tiger pawing the fairways of Royal Portrush is not the same animal of 2006.
Yes, he finally added a 15th major at April’s Masters but with every passing month and every skipped tournament that win begins to look like a last hurrah, a roar dragged from deep within the belly of a beast who may have no more such moments to give.
When he donned the green jacket at Augusta, dewy-eyed fans the world over dared to dream that he could indeed match Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major titles.
Now, whisper it, the fear is that this is a farewell tour – a chance to see Sinatra pack out Vegas, churning out the greatest hits after the voice has gone.
And Tiger does pack them in.
The galleries swelling from the first to the last, dragged along by the biggest star in the golfing firmament and the gravity of greatness.
Intake of breath
Having gone to the course straight from the airport on Sunday, it was perhaps no surprise to see the biggest name in golf struggle as he made his way round with Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed.
Multiple surgeries have taken their toll and while his spine may be successfully fused it clearly won’t stand up to the rigours of a normal schedule.
Monday’s practice round was played with marquee partners Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler.
While Tiger’s countrymen drew plenty of admiring looks it was the man in the lemon crewneck who everyone craned their necks to see.
What they saw, for much of the day, was far from pretty and when Woods failed to get out of a deep greenside bunker on the 14th there was a collective intake of breath.
“Nice shot Tiger,” came a roar as he splashed out at the second time of asking but many in the galleries had seen enough to write off his chances.
“I’m putting a grand on him to miss the cut based on what I’ve seen today,” said one marshal.
An older woman, somewhat more sympathetically, opined: “He looks tired, doesn’t he?”
A champagne moment?
And he did – tired of feeling his age, of feeling his back and tired of not giving the galleries the show they expected to see.
If a week is a long time in politics it can be every bit as transformative in golf.
There have been plenty of times when a trophy winner drenched in champagne was drowning in his own inadequacies just seven days before.
But if there’s to be a champagne moment for Tiger Woods at Portrush something has to change, and soon.
The man himself once said: “The only reason I enter an event is to win.”
This is one star who doesn’t do farewell tours.
He’s not here simply to be seen, he wants to be heard roaring again… just like the Tiger of old.