ST. ANDREWS, Scotland. On Friday, Tiger Woods finished at the Old Course, possibly for good, while Rory McIlroy was just getting started.
As they exchanged knowing glances and went in opposite directions on parallel lanes—Woods on the 18th hole, McIlroy on the first—it was like passing a torch. But perhaps the lightsaber handover was more appropriate when McIlroy went to lead the attack against the dark side at this 150th UK Open.
This is an exaggeration, of course. After all, it’s only golf, and golf in a great location, especially in the clear and mild conditions that again prevailed for most of the day, with cumulus cloud banks guarding the greens and ruddy fairways of the home of golf.
It was a real panorama, as it has been for centuries, but the landscape of the sport is rapidly changing, with new allies and feuds over breakaway, mega-money. LIV Golf Invitational Series.
Only a few months ago there were only golfers here. Now there are golfers and LIV golfers, and although today’s rebels have a habit of becoming tomorrow’s establishment, now the rebels wear black hats because of their tour sponsored by Saudi Arabia and the feeling that they making easy money no matter how awkward it makes everyone feel.
“Everyone seems to be against us, and that’s okay,” said Talor Gooch, an LIV golfer who is tied for eighth with seven under par ahead of Saturday’s third round. “I think it kind of brought us together.”
The binding works both on and off the track. Dunvegan’s popular restaurant, St. At the Andrews Pub near the 18th hole, LIV golfers were frequently booed by patrons on Fridays when they appeared on TV coverage from the Open.
There were a lot of people on the early leaderboard to make fun of, and when McIlroy took off his cap to Woods on the first hole and pulled ahead, Dustin Johnson, formerly No. 1 on the leaderboard. 1 and the highest ranking LIV player, was the rebel in charge.
But by the end of the second round, Johnson, nine under par, was drafted into the PGA Tour (at least until the next round of defections).
Cameron Smith, Australia’s best player, was in first place at age 13, followed by Cameron Young, US first-round leader at age 11. Third place at level 10 was taken by McIlroy and Victor Hovland of Norway, who made the throw of the day hitting the Eagle from the rough from about 140 yards on the 15th par-4 hole.
“I was a little concerned that this would go too far,” he said. “But it straightened up and somehow landed softly on that side slope and just seeped in. That was incredible”.
With such good lead and good breaks, major championships are won, but there will be many more unexpected rebounds on the undulating and increasingly unforgiving fairways of the Old Course.
“I think we had rain intermittently this morning, which slowed us down a bit,” said Smith, who had an average start time on Friday. “We were able to make some shots that we couldn’t do yesterday, but I still think they will become very strong and fast. This course bakes so fast. Of course it will be a challenge.”
And yet Woods’ record winning result in St. Louis. Andrews, who had 19 points under par in 2000, definitely looks threatened. He won’t be the one to challenge after nine over-par hits in two rounds and missing incision, as in 2015 at the last open championship in St. Petersburg. Andrews.
But Friday was much more bittersweet: bittersweet because Woods, at this reduced stage, is nowhere near the player he once was in Scotland and beyond; cute because he could feel compassion and appreciation from the crowd and his colleagues.
“Walking down the fairway, I saw Rory right there,” he said of the 18th hole. “He gave me the tip of the cap. It was pretty cool, the nods I got from the guys when they left and I went in, just respect. And from the level of the brotherhood of players, it’s not to see or feel anything. ”
McIlroy, 33, caught the symbolism but would have preferred a different scenario as he embarked on what turned out to be round 68.
“It would be cool if it was eight under par instead of eight over what it was,” McIlroy said. “I just hope, everyone hopes that this is not the end of his career at the Old Course. I think he deserves and we deserve him to try again.”
Woods, often gloomy and silent after poor performances, was expansive and outspoken on Friday. After playing for most of his career only to win, it seemed that simply being involved was enough for peace of mind after a car crash. severely injured his right leg 17 months ago.
“I’ve gotten pretty close to Tiger over the last few years,” said McIlroy, a Northern Irishman who lives near The Woods in the Jupiter golf enclave, Florida. “I think we all sort of rallied around him back there on Jupiter and we all want him to succeed. He was our childhood hero even though I might be a little older than some of the other guys. We want him to still compete and this week has obviously been tough for him, but we’re all for him.”
Woods said he has no plans to compete again anytime soon and is unsure if and when he returns he will be able to play more closely. In this minimalist comeback, he played in three majors and only three majors, starting from the masters in April.
“I understand that I have become more battle-hardened, but I just have a hard time walking and playing 18 holes,” Woods said. “People have no idea what i have to go through, and hours of body work, before and after, every single day to do what I just did. That’s what people don’t understand.”
He was hardly the only golf luminary to fail at the Old Course. Collin Morikawa, the reigning British Open champion, missed after failing to keep up with McIlroy in his group to finish one over par.
Louis Ostwizen, South African who won the Open in St. Louis. Andrews in 2010 will also miss the weekend. Like Phil Mickelson and Brooks Koepka, LIV tour participants and former world champions.
The cards and stars have been shuffled in a hurry, and no one knows how the game or this historic Open Championship will turn out. But what’s clear is that if the final holes on Sunday come down to, say, Johnson vs. McIlroy for a burgundy pitcher, it won’t be seen inside or outside the game as a simple Johnson vs. McIlroy showdown.
May the force be with them.