British Open could provide bittersweet Tiger Woods moment if this is his last

Might we be witnessing the end for Tiger Woods at St. Andrews this week, as he plays in the 150th British Open on the fabled Old Course?

What will we (and Woods) be feeling when he walks over the Swilcan Bridge after teeing off on the 18th for the final time of the week — whether that be Sunday or (heaven forbid) Friday?
Will Woods — at age 46 and with a body that has been broken down from surgeries numbering in double digits, and 17 months removed from that horrific car crash that nearly cost him his right leg — be overcome with emotion knowing it might be his final time making that walk as a legitimate competitor for the Claret Jug?

Woods has done a lot of things in his brilliant, record-shattering career: He has won 82 tournaments, including 15 major championships, and he has dramatically changed the competitive and financial landscape of the game.
But one thing Woods hasn’t done is show a lot of emotion publicly. Woods rarely allows the public a peek into his soul. Perhaps the only true exception to that was 2006, when he won his third British Open at Hoylake just months after his father, Earl, died, and he collapsed into the arms of his then-caddie Steve Williams in tears.

Woods, though, is an astute historian of the game. Legacy matters to him. He calls St. Andrews, where he won the 2000 and 2005 British Opens, his favorite course in the world. His victory in 2005 on the Old Course came two days after Jack Nicklaus made his final walk over the Swilcan Bridge as a competitor.

Nicklaus, wearing a red sweater vest over a white shirt with dark pants and white golf shoes, stopping to pose on the bridge and wave his right arm to the adoring spectators and a phalanx of photographers to acknowledge the moment is one of the most iconic images in the sport.
Will Woods pause when he walks over the bridge for the final time of the week?

Only he knows.
One thing that is certain is that there will be at least as many photographers when that happens as there were in 2005 for Nicklaus.

Make no mistake: Woods cherishes every one of his 15 majors, three short of Nicklaus’ record 18, but he cherishes his British Opens won at St. Andrews the most.

“As Jack says, your career is not complete unless you’ve won an Open Championship at the Home of Golf, and I feel like he’s correct in that regard,’’ Woods said. “This is a pretty historical Open we are going to be playing. I’m lucky enough to be part of the past champions who have won there and want to play there again.
“I don’t know when they are ever going to go back while I’m still able to play at a high level, and I want to be able to give it at least one more run at a high level.”

That last phrase was a telling one:
One more run at a high level.
Having watched Woods play the Masters in April and the PGA Championship in May, so clearly compromised physically from injuries resulting from the February 2021 car crash, the argument may be made that he has yet to show true signs of playing at a “high level’’ — if “high level’’ is measured as a level good enough to win.

Woods — who last played in that PGA Championship at Southern Hills, but was forced to withdraw after the third round because his body could handle no more — speaks like a great athlete who knows his end is near.
And that’s a bit sobering for those of us who’ve followed and chronicled his entire career, because it was easy to get so lost in the amazing things he was accomplishing that it felt as if they would go on forever.
“I do think he realizes that the end is imminent and a lot closer than he would like to admit, just reflecting on his performance over the last couple of majors,’’ said close friend Notah Begay, now an NBC on-course reporter.

“It would be easy to start looking at Tiger misty-eyed and wondering if you are ever going to get to see this again,’’ NBC broadcaster Paul Azinger said. “Historically, this is where the greats have taken their final walk. [But] generally, the greats haven’t been injured like this and had their leg look crooked.

“I’m not sure how sentimental it’s going to feel to watch Tiger play this go-round. I think personally that he has more in him. I don’t want to say this is a swan song just yet.’’

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