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How Tiger Woods proved he can roar again at The Open during Monday practice at Royal Portrush

Tiger Woods during a practice round prior to the 148th Open Championship held at Royal Portrush (Francois Nel/Getty Images)
Tiger Woods during a practice round prior to the 148th Open Championship held at Royal Portrush (Francois Nel/Getty Images)

By Gareth Hanna and Adam McKendry

Beyond the home hopefuls - your Rory McIlroys, Graeme McDowells and Darren Clarkes - all the hype heading into The Open Championship was over one man.

How would Tiger Woods perform at Portrush? Would he like it? Would he be the same man who ascended at Augusta or was simply passable at Pebble?

Over the first two days, we've had possibly the two most contrasting answers imaginable.

On Sunday, arriving off an early morning flight and going straight to the course, where he teed off around 9am, Woods didn't look his awe-inspiring self.

The world number five, of course, hadn't played competitively since last month's US Open and confirmed on Sunday that he played 'zero' golf during his two-week break in Thailand.

There were murmurs among the crowd that his tentative steps and somewhat indifferent game could be signals of more than just ring-rust and jet-lag.

At one stage he left three balls in a greenside bunker, although he did almost hole one that he managed to get out of the same sand-trap.

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Then, chipping from Bobby Locke's Hollow beside the 16th green, he was clearly outperformed by playing partner Patrick Reed, who seemed to be giving his Ryder Cup team-mate some tips.

Reed admitted after that he and Tiger like to 'pick each other's brains' about their shortgames. Was the Big Cat simply trying out something different that wasn't quite coming off? Quite possibly.

In fact, Woods threw all the fears of Sunday off much like he did his white sweater early into his second practice round on Monday morning.

Taking to the course with Ryder Cup team-mates Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson, both of whom also shed their outer layers with the sun blazing down at the Dunluce, it was a much more convincing display from the 15-time Major winner.

Gone was the clunky walk, the laboured swing and general fear that this was a man who had accumulated too much rust from those two weeks in Thailand. Instead, his swing was free and flowing, and his strike crisp and clean.

His irons were creative, mixing draws with fades; low, piercing ball flights with shots that ballooned into the air and landed as if on greens made of pillows; he peppered pins with approaches from all angles.

Only one shot the whole day was a true wide, his drive at the seventh a wild slash that ended up in the left rough among a group of spectators devastated that he never wound up playing it.

This was more like the Tiger that we all expect to see this week, one with the steely-eyed determination to make it a 16th Major victory, and become the first Open winner in Northern Ireland since Max Faulkner in 1951.

He even initiated the first real Tiger roar of the week, rolling in a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th to the audible delight of a well-populated granstand.

But. There always has to be a but, doesn't there?

Where his iron play was much improved, that putt on 18 was the exception rather than the rule.

All in all, his work on the greens left a lot to be desired, so much so that, by the 10th hole, he had been joined by Claude Harmon for an impromptu crisis intervention.

The stroke was fluid but it was the contact that appeared to be holding Woods back, the 43-year-old frustratingly jamming his putter into the green in explanation to Harmon.

Indeed, it regressed so much that, by the time they had arrived on the 16th green, Tiger was barely putting at all, instead opting to work on his short game around the putting surface, which wasn't a great deal better.

On the whole, though, things are at the very least fixable. You would feel a lot less confident in his ability to turn things around if it was his short game on fire and his irons letting him down - that's a longer fix.

With a bit of work on the greens over the next couple of days, Tiger can be roaring again in much the same way that he was at Augusta back in April. His iron play looks sharp, and with a bit more tuning they could be lethal.

Dunluce beware.

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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