ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Rory McIlroy is optimistic about the GOAT.
McIlroy believes Tiger Woods has a chance at St Andrews this week to win his 16th major championship of his career and his third British Open title. If Woods won another Claret Jug, he would be the first player to ever win three on the Old Course, which he calls his favorite course in the world.
“I think the way the golf course is and the conditions are, I could definitely see it,” McIlroy said. “This week it’s going to be a game of chess, and no one has been better at playing that kind of chess game on a golf course than Tiger in the last 20 years.”
McIlroy played alongside Woods at the Celebration of Champions four-hole exhibition with previous Open champions, and Woods shagged two of the four holes – Nos. 2 and 18 – that he drove.
“He moved better on those four holes than I had seen him in a while,” McIlroy said, referring to Woods’ surgically repaired right leg, which almost had to be amputated after his car accident in February of 2021. “And his Swing… hitting the golf ball and swinging the club are not the problem. It’s the walking part of it that’s the fight. But he seemed to be moving well. Everything looked pretty good [Monday]so that’s encouraging.”
Woods played all four rounds of the Masters in April and retired after the third round of the PGA Championship in May due to leg trouble. He said he was stronger than in those two tournaments.
Woods, too, said he had his sights set on this Open since realizing he could play tournament golf again. After finishing the Masters, Woods said he would definitely play St. Andrews but wasn’t sure if it was for the US Open or the PGA.
“When I realized I could potentially play at a high level, my focus was on getting back here to St Andrews to compete in this championship,” Woods said. “Since it’s the most historic we’ve ever had, I just didn’t want to miss this Open here in the home of golf. That meant so much to me.”
It’s where he made his Open debut as an amateur in 1995, where he won his first of three Claret Jugs in 2000, and where he completed the career Grand Slam in 2005.
Including that four hole display on Monday, Woods played 58 practice holes on the Old Course this week. He practiced on the range on Wednesday but didn’t play any holes.
Woods looked like someone to take it all in this week, posing for numerous photos on the Swilcan Bridge. He posed with Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus and McIlroy on Monday. On Tuesday he posed with his girlfriend Erica.
“I have a photo in my office the first time I played my first practice round, I was sitting there (on the bridge) and it means a lot to me,” Woods said. “I mean, the history and the people who walked that bridge. To Lee and Rory and Jack, and just standing there, that’s history right there. Everyone seems to have said goodbye there.”
When asked if he will feel different walking across the bridge for the final time in competition this week, knowing the Open may not return to St Andrews for five, six or even seven years, Woods said : “I don’t know if it takes that long, I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep up physically at this level. That’s also one of the reasons why I wanted to play in this championship. I don’t know what my career will be like.
“I don’t know how many Open Championships I have left here at St Andrews, but I wanted this one. It started here for me in 1995, and if it ends here in 1922, it does. If not, then no. If I get a chance to play again that would be great, but there are no guarantees.”