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James Lawton: Wind roars but Tiger’s not blown off course


Tiger Woods at The Open. July 2010

Tiger Woods at The Open. July 2010

David Cannon

Tiger Woods at The Open. July 2010

Tiger Woods knew early yesterday that if he was re-announce himself as the world's most formidable golfer, here in the place he considers his most favourable terrain of all, he had to fight as hard as at any time since he stunned the game while winning the US Open on one leg.

That was back in those innocent times when Tiger was the master of everything he surveyed, a player and a man beyond any serious doubts. This time the questions were not about his body but his continued appetite for the challenge of one day climbing above Jack Nicklaus' mountain top of 18 major tournament wins.

Also required was a considerable amount of raw nerve. While so many significant rivals were tumbling out of contention, Woods repeatedly refused to let the suddenly difficult conditions detach him from the belief that this tournament, which he won so majestically in 2000 and 2005, was still his best chance of ending the days of misery.

But then, so much for that new tranquillity in the life of the Tiger. Already two shots down just four holes out of the climatic armistice he enjoyed on the first day, he appeared to have squandered a superb drive off the fifth tee yesterday. As his second shot ballooned into the grass below the bunker to the right of the green, he hacked his long iron into the ground and yelled his frustration.

There had to be more than a flicker of concern that he might just be entering the kind of maelstrom that left him so devastated while missing the cut last year at Turnberry.

Yet such anxiety was, for the moment at least, rendered quite absurd. He chipped on to the green with all that gloriously distributed weight which so often used to separate him from the rest of the field, and coolly tapped home a downhill seven-foot putt for birdie.

But there was no easy route out of the tempest, which was tearing down the first-day leader Rory McIlroy, who disappeared off the leader board faster than a sweet wrapping caught in a gust of the wind tearing in from the North Sea. Woods checked his swing twice on the sixth tee, then swung his club in the air as his drive misfired again, this time left. After knocking it on the fairway, he was once again struggling to make par. He did so, but it was all desperately hard work and much more about survival than any easy plundering.

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In yesterday's high wind, there was simply nothing to exploit but his determination to stay in the tournament, however far that left him behind Louis Oosthuizen -- and if it was attrition, it at least had moments which brought out some of the best of the Tiger's nerve.

Yes, it was a battle, and there were times when he seemed to be in danger of losing it, but each time a crisis came he fought it off.

Even if the runaway Oosthuizen was expected to meekly rejoin the pack, the Tiger still plainly had much to do to remain in some kind of contention. However, there was, maybe for the first time since he returned to golf, a sense that he was back in charge of both his game and his emotion.

Scoring was desperately hard, certainly, but then not much of life had been going so well for quite some time and here at least he was refusing to surrender any control.

It happened again at the 10th when he pushed for another birdie. He did not make it but in the circumstances it was another encouraging sign.

Around that point there was also a hint that the wind might be dropping a little. Tiger might just have been reflecting that indeed it is an ill wind that fails to distribute a little good. For the first time in a while, he might just have been among the beneficiaries.