The greatest feat of Tiger Woods at St. Andrews was never captured on television.
There was nothing extraordinary about his victory in the 2005 British Open. It was the second claret jug Woods won on the Old Course, cementing an affection so deep for St. Andrews that he was never going to miss it this year as long as he could walk.
Woods never trailed over the final 63 holes. He led by as many as six shots in the final round and won by five. Still, he knew right away that Sunday was going to be special based on the practice range.
Starting his warm-up of full swings with a wedge, his first shot hit the wooden 100-yard sign.
And then he did it again. And again. And again.
“Four straight times,” Woods said in an interview later that year with The Associated Press. “I hit a couple of little wedges to loosen up, then hit to the sign. Peppered it four straight times in the air on the right zero — not the middle zero, the right zero.”
The story gets better.
Standing behind him was Hank Haney, his swing coach at the time, who watched quietly before leaning in to give some advice to caddie Steve Williams.
“He hit that sign four times in a row — and five out of eight,” Williams said. “Hank says to me, ‘The first time he gets inside 100 yards, you might want to tell him to aim away from the flag.’”
Williams laughed. Except that it wasn’t a joke.
“First time I’m inside 100 yards is on No. 6,” Woods said. “I had 98 yards to the hole. What happens? I one-hop it off the flag and it spins off the shelf.”
Whether he can summon moments like that again are doubtful given his age and the nature of his injuries. If the four knee surgeries and five back surgeries were not enough, Woods shattered bones in his right leg and ankle in a February 2021 car crash in Los Angeles. He said doctors briefly considered amputation.
Fourteen months later, he took on the toughest walk in championship golf at the Masters and competed well enough to make the cut. He didn’t know in April how much he could play the rest of the year — so much remains unknown — except that it would include St. Andrews.
“It’s my favorite golf course in the world,” Woods said, strong words from a Californian who delivered the most dominant performance in a major at Pebble Beach and who has five Masters green jackets from Augusta National.
The Old Course is special to so many others before him, from Bobby Jones to Jack Nicklaus, and it helps to have experienced that moment standing in front of the Royal & Ancient clubhouse holding a silver claret jug and being introduced as the “champion golfer of the year.”
But the memories he created extend to one moment that took him a century back in time, during a practice round in 2000 when he won to complete the career Grand Slam.
The goal that week was to add to the history at the home of golf. On the eve of the Open, Woods had a chance to relive history.
He was on the 352-yard ninth hole during a practice round Wednesday when his swing coach, Butch Harmon, gave him a replica of the gutta-percha golf ball used more than a century earlier. It was a brown, molded rubber ball with score lines across the surface.
The gutta-percha was the first game-changer in golf — yes, technology in the Royal & Ancient game began long before titanium and the Pro V1 — replacing a ball consisting of feathers packed into a pouch.
Woods couldn’t resist.
After hitting driver to the front edge of the green, he smacked the gutta-percha replica and still had 120 yards remaining. Woods hit a full 5-iron just over the back. He made par.
And then he went on to make his own brand of history that year, winning by eight shots to become the fifth player to capture the career Grand Slam, and doing so without hitting into a single bunker all week on the Old Course.
This is the history that is so appealing to him, along with the names on the base of that silver claret jug, a trophy that first was awarded 150 years ago.
Woods is among only five players who have won the Open twice at St. Andrews. No one has done it three times and odds are not in his favor. Even so, there is something magical about the gray old town, and there is a part of Woods who believes it might be his best chance, even on only one good wheel.
Woods realizes his window is closing. It likely will be at least five years before the Open returns to St. Andrews. He said earlier this week in Ireland that he can always play golf as long as he can swing a club. Competing against the world’s best? That’s different.
“I know that he’s been circling this on his calendar for a while and he’s been vocal about that and it’s I think his favorite golf course in the world and he loves it, and obviously he’s had some great success there,” said Justin Thomas, who spends time with Woods at home in Florida.
“I know everybody will be very eagerly anticipating and ready to watch him play St. Andrews because it’s going to be a pretty historic week.”