There was not an eye in all of St. Andrews that wasn’t trained on Tiger Woods at the moment he set off from the 18th tee box for what could be the final time. Including, it turns out, the other golfers tasked with playing in the event.
As Woods thrust his cap into the air across Swilcan Bridge, thousands experienced a moment that will live forever in their pantheon of sports memories. The game’s greatest player, on its most historic stage, in an utterly historic moment — did it even matter he’d shot nine over par?
It did not, evidently, to the players in the field at the Old Course on Friday, who offered their own recounting of the moment, one by one, for the public record.
“It was amazing. It gave me goosebumps,” said U.S. Open champion Matthew Fitzpatrick. “Just looking around, seeing everyone stood up, and giving him a standing ovation coming down 18. Yeah, it was incredible. It’s something that will live with me forever, for sure. It’s thoroughly deserved, and I think towards the end of it, you could see he was a little bit emotional as well. Yeah, it was a big deal.”
In the moments surrounding the ovation on 18, play stopped on the Old Course as players craned their necks to see Tiger for what could be one final time. The most notable of those reactions came from Rory McIlroy, who teed off on the first hole right as Woods hit his own tee shot on 18. McIlroy tipped his cap to Woods as the two players crossed paths on the mammoth shared fairway, a moment he hopes is not their last exchange in an Open at St. Andrews.
“It would have been a cool moment if he was eight under par instead of eight over, whatever he was,” McIlroy said. “Yeah, I just hope — everyone hopes it’s not the end of his Old Course career. I think he deserves, we deserve him to have another crack at it.”
“I’m hoping this is not Tiger’s last,” Jon Rahm agreed. “I’m hoping somehow he can get healthier and be back.”
If this is the end, however, McIlroy and Rahm are both glad they got to witness it firsthand.
“Well, if he’s saying it [could be his last Open Championship], then I’m glad I was there,” Jon Rahm said.
“He was all our hero growing up, even though I’m maybe a touch older than some of the other guys,” McIlroy said. “But we want to see him do well. We want to see him still out there competing.”
Among the “younger guys” McIlroy referenced, Sahith Theegala is one of the youngest. Theegala, who is still just 25, is playing in his first Open. Woods was out of Theegala’s view when his final round came to an end, but not out of his thoughts.
“Yeah, I think it goes without being said, anyone from 10, 15 years older to me to even 5, 6 years younger than me have grown up watching Tiger,” Theegala said. “Some of my earliest memories of golf was between ’06 and ’08 when he was still playing at the highest level of golf in the world. It was so cool seeing him in person and going through his full prep work and on the range and the people he attracts. It’s just incredible what he does for the game. We’re never going to be able to thank him enough.”
Among the other youngsters on the course was Cameron Young, who finished Friday’s second round in solo second place. Young, who is still a PGA Tour rookie, said the experience of competing in an Open next to Woods left him nothing shy of speechless.
“I don’t even really know how to answer that question,” Young said. “I know there’s tons of people that came out to support him which is great for the game of golf. Just as he’s been his whole career. It’s sad not to have him around for the weekend, but I’m sure we’ll see plenty of him moving forward.”
It’s hard to explain just how many people — both in the tournament and outside of it — were moved by Tiger’s 18th hole moment, but the man himself put it perfectly.
“I had a few tears,” he said. “It felt like the whole tournament was right there.”