OVER THE ATLANTIC, US Airways Flight 769 — When one flies on private jets, as Tiger Woods does, one travels the world in a hurry. Woods, in all likelihood, woke up at home in Florida on the day after the Open. For others, it takes longer to get out of Dodge.
The Tour player Ryan Moore is on this Tuesday Glasgow-to-Philadelphia flight. With his beard and his Jack Purcell tennis shoes, you’d never mistake him, off the course, for a Ryder Cup candidate, which he is. One of my fellow typists, Mike Kern of the Philadelphia Daily News, is bringing up the rear of the plane. My colleague Gary Van Sickle and I are sitting in emergency rows. Everybody remain calm.
Gary and I needed an emergency nine after playing a newish Tom Doak course Monday afternoon, the Renaissance Club, practically next door to Muirfield, in the suburbs of Edinburgh. Actually, I should speak for my duffing self. The course is beautiful and difficult, with sloping greens that bring to mind the course Doak built with Jack Nicklaus on Long Island, Sebonack. I couldn’t putt them.
Gary, a legit scratch golfer, knocked in three lengthy birdie putts with his claw grip and a sunny disposition. The course has an old look but, for now, plays young. You won’t get the big linksy bounces you get at some of the other courses in the neighborhood: Dunbar, North Berwick, the Gullane courses. Doak’s course is a serious course, and Renaissance is a serious golf club. It’s super-duper private, with the good food and the spiffy driving range and all that. But, like most private clubs in Scotland, if you approach folks there the right way, you have a chance of getting on. Of course, in order to play it, you have to be in Scotland, golf capital of the world.
I wonder when Woods will return to the motherland. The British Open is in England in 2011 (Royal St. George’s) and 2012 (Royal Lytham) and returns to Scotland, to Muirfield, in 2013. It’s hard to imagine Woods going to Scotland on a golfing holiday, or going anywhere for a golf vacation, for that matter. A good guess is that his next tournament will be Firestone in mid-August and the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits the following week. This week, with the Tour in Canada, Tiger’s off.
Tom Watson won’t have Tiger Woods to kick around this week. Watson is playing at Carnoustie this week, looking to win his fifth British Senior Open. (Do you see Tiger ever playing British Senior Opens? I do. What else is he going to do? He’s a golfer.) For months now, Watson has had these little digs about Woods, nothing major, just itty-bitty self-righteous proclamations about Woods’s cussing, club-throwing and, in a veiled way, cavorting. Last week, at the Open, Watson gave the subject a break in his interviews, but I saw one TW-TW moment that was downright hilarious — and weird.
In the second round, in the late afternoon, after a 65-minute delay for excessive wind, play was painfully slow. When Tiger’s group got to the fourth tee, another group was already there, waiting for the fairway to clear. He set up shop on the back of the tee, cooling his heels by leaning against a Rolex sign on the back of the tee. (The Royal & Ancient do a lot of things well, but those signs on the backs of the tees are awful for spectators. If you stand behind the tee and you want to watch footwork, you’re often stymied.) He continued to stand there while the group ahead played their tee shots. You almost never see that, a visitor on the tee. On Tour, it’s one group on a tee at a time.
But then Watson, Mr. Etiquette himself, did something even more odd, or aggressive, or something. While Woods continued his fourth-tee wait, Watson marched right up to the box. You’d think, or I did, that Watson might go out of his way to give Woods some space, but he did the opposite. He sort of crowded him. They didn’t exchange any words or nods — nothing. I’m not suggesting this was any sort of big anything. But everything has some sort of purpose, right? I just wonder why Watson didn’t stay clear of the tee.
I saw one other interesting thing with Woods. His pro buddies, like Sean O’Hair and Charlie Howell and Darren Clarke, will tell you how Tiger likes to be one of the guys. The public doesn’t see it, but there was a behind-the-curtains glimpse of that Tiger on Saturday, at the end of play. He was in the scorer’s trailer with his playing partner, who happened to be D. Clarke. Steve Williams, Tiger’s caddie, was in the room, double-checking his boss’s card. Woods and Clarke had both shot themselves out of the championship with their third rounds. Williams left. Woods signed his card, unwrapped a piece of gum and threw the wrapper at a wastepaper basket with his left hand. When he missed, he made a big lean, picked the wrapper up and made it from close range the second time. Woods and Clarke sat in the room for a minute or two, a private respite in a week that doesn’t give up many, course and town being so on top of one another. Woods then took off his cap, wiped his brow, and bopped Clarke on the shoulder with the cap. He was letting off a little steam, that’s all. When Clarke got up, he extended his left hand in his friend’s direction. Woods lifted his right. They clapped hands, NBA-style, left the room and faced the world.
One more little thing, for whatever it’s worth. On Friday night, Tiger’s threesome — he was playing with Justin Rose and Camilo Villegas — were on the 18th green in the fading light. The bleachers were packed. Tom Watson’s group was on the 18th tee. Watson wasn’t going to make the cut. He was playing in an Open at the home of golf one year after his amazing 2009 run at Turnberry. Folks were there to see Woods. (He was warmly received last week, but not wildly so.) But they were also there to see Watson walk up 18 on the Old Course, maybe for a last time. (Golf’s getting way too mushy about these last-time things. It was cool when Arnold Palmer played his final U.S. Open at Oakmont in ’94, but enough already. They’re starting to feel like they’re made-for-TV, don’t you think?)
Woods and Rose and Villegas knew the deal. Watson’s group included the long-hitting Ryo Ishikawa, the teenage Japanese phenom. He could drive the par-4 home hole, no problem. If Woods and Rose and Villegas didn’t invite Watson’s group to hit up, Watson’s group would likely not finish and would have to return Saturday morning in the early light. That’d be bad for the fans, bad for the players, bad for Watson’s farewell. Bad for TV. The Woods group waved up the Watson group.
Watson hit a good drive, crossed the Swilcan Burn Bridge, gave it a kiss and paraded on home in the gloaming. The fans stood. No big deal. Just a classy end to a long, windy day.