ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — After Tiger Woods slammed his tee shot onto the 18th fairway during a practice round on the Old Course at St. Andrews on Sunday, Justin Thomas followed his ball in the air and said, “Oooh!”
As Woods’ ball bounced down the sun-scorched fairway and bounced high on the green, Thomas added, “Boing!”
Woods, a two-time St Andrews Open winner (2000 and 2005), eventually drove the green, missed an eagle putt and tapped in for his third birdie of the round. He also had birdies on the par 4 and par 8 on which he pinned his drive shot at about 5 feet.
It was an encouraging start for Woods, five days before the start of the 150th Open Championship.
It was the first time this year that Woods played a full 18-hole practice round before a major. At the Masters in April and the PGA Championship in May, Woods played 9-hole practice rounds before the tournaments to keep his strength up. Woods and Thomas also walked 18 holes Saturday night, chipping and putting along the way. They were on course until just after 10:30 p.m. local time.
Woods, a 15-time major champion, declined to speak to reporters after Sunday’s practice round. He is scheduled to speak to the media on Monday and Tuesday.
“He struggled early but got into it as the day progressed,” Woods caddy Joe LaCava told ESPN. “That’s encouraging.”
Last but not least, Woods appeared to be having a blast ahead of what might be his final start at The Open at St Andrews. He has won the event three times; In 2006 he also won at Royal Liverpool.
On the challenging par 4 17th, known as the Road Hole, Thomas hit his tee shot high and headed straight for the Old Course Hotel.
“Hit a window!” shouted Thomas before his ball hit the front lawn.
Woods took the same aggressive line as Thomas on his tee shot, aiming over the roof of the former railroad shed on the right. Woods’ shot landed in the fairway, but then he hit his approach shot into a cavernous bunker to the left of the green. He chipped to about 2 feet to save par.
Before making a birdie on the 18th, Woods stopped to take a photo with Thomas, LaCava, Thomas’ caddy, Jim “Bones” Mackay and other members of his team on the Swilcan Bridge.
Woods, 46, is hoping for better results in the last major of the season than in the first two he’s played. He finished 47th in the Masters, his first official tournament start since he was critically injured in a car accident outside of Los Angeles in February 2021. In each of the last two rounds, he had scores of 6 to 78, representing his worst results of his Augusta National career.
At the PGA Championship in Southern Hills in May, Woods retired after 54 holes due to pain in his surgically repaired right leg. He posted a 9-over-79 in the third round, his worst finish in a PGA championship.
Woods missed the US Open in June due to problems with his right leg. He had been aiming for The Open all year. Last week he played two rounds at the JP McManus Pro-Am in Limerick, Ireland and finished 39th with 7-over over 36 holes. He also played a practice round with Rory McIlroy at Ballybunion in Ireland on Thursday.
Woods will play four holes with McIlroy, 2018 British Women’s Open winner Georgia Hall and two-time Open winner Lee Trevino at Monday’s Celebration of Champions.
Thomas, who is playing The Open at St Andrews for the first time, said he was trying to get information on how to play the course from Woods, his close friend.
“A little,” said Thomas. “I understand he’s going to be withholding some information a bit but I’m trying to pin him and get as much out of him as possible because he’s done pretty well at that place.”
When Thomas was asked if he had any doubts about Wood’s chances of competing again this week, he said: “Definitely not. I learned better than challenging anything about him.”