- Drawing fascination from fans for his neck tape and from opponents through his mere existence, Tiger Woods played like his 2018 self during an even-par first round at Carnoustie.
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland — Tiger Woods showed up here Thursday with athletic tape on his creaky neck. He should have brought braces for Russell Knox’s shaking knees. Knox was paired with Tiger, and he was the kind of nervous you might get if your idol showed up, unprompted, to officiate your wedding.
Knox had “too much tension” in his swing, and it wasn’t because of all the photographers following his group. It was because of the man they were photographing. Knox had never played with Woods before. Doing so in his native Scotland, in the British, was more than he could handle.
“He’s a person which I’ve seen on the range in the past,” Knox said. “He’s almost like a mythical figure.”
You might expect one of the PGA Tour’s young pups to feel this way. But Knox is 33. He is just six months younger than LeBron James. He is 49th in the World Golf Ranking, he has won two PGA Tour events, and he has made more than $12 million on Tour. Yet Thursday, during the first round of a major championship that he is capable of winning, he thought, “I’m out here with Tiger for five hours, I might as well talk to him.”
What did they say?
“It’s kind of a blur, to be honest,” Knox said. “It’s one of those: ‘I’m chatting away with Tiger here, like normal. I don’t even remember what I’m saying.’”
Knox shot a 73 that could have been worse; his short game saved him. Knox said he played “dreadful.” Well, that can happen when you feel like a teenage fan at the height of Beatlemania. For the benefit of Mr. Knox, there will be another show tomorrow. He does not expect to be so nervous for that one.
While Knox was marveling at his childhood hero, Woods was playing like his 2018 self: extremely well with the irons, but not quite as well as he would like overall. His even-par 71 was better than it looks on the leaderboard—scoring conditions were much tougher in the afternoon, and Woods teed off at 3:21 p.m. But his score could have and should have been lower. He hit eight-irons into Carnoustie’s two par-5s and came away with two pars.
“If I play them the way I’m supposed to play them with an eight-iron in my hand, I think I have the best round of the afternoon wave,” Woods said.
Woods’s approaches on the two par-5s were annoying for a lot of reasons, but mostly because they should have been two of his easiest shots all day. Woods is still figuring out the driver (he doesn’t need it much this week) and his putting has been a problem for much of this comeback. But his iron play into greens has been exceptional this season.
Woods is scrutinized so heavily, fans seem to know which of his fingernails grow fastest. That explains the fascination with the athletic tape on his neck. Woods said his neck has “been bugging me for a while,” and when he felt discomfort on the range he decided to wear the kinesiology tape.
Asking Woods about his injuries used to be like asking a CIA agent for his iPhone contacts. He is a bit more forthcoming now: “I’ve been doing this for years ... braces, bandages. This time it’s actually visible.” He also said the discomfort affected him a “little bit here and there.” But that was as far as he would go.
I certainly hope Woods feels O.K. Friday; otherwise, Knox might start weeping. It really was amazing to hear Knox talk about Woods like he had emerged from a fairy tale.
“It’s Tiger Woods,” Knox said. “How would you feel playing with him? I’ve won three times. I’ve played in front of loads of people for the last eight years. But this is different, knowing who you’re playing with. I think he is the best golfer of all time. He’s definitely the person I looked up to.”
Knox was almost embarrassed by how Woods’s presence affected him: “I feel like I should know what I’m doing. It’s cool playing with Tiger, but I gotta get over that. I’m here to win, not just enjoy my walk around the course.”
Woods said, “I don’t know how nervous he can be. He just won last week.” And it’s true: Knox won the Irish Open earlier this month. But Tiger wasn’t in the field.
“It means I’ve been around for a little bit,” Woods said, but of course that’s not what it means. Tom Lehman is here, he has been around a lot longer than Woods, and if Knox sees Lehman, he might ask him to valet his car. Russell Knox got the thrill of his life Thursday, and the rest of us got a reminder. At his best, Tiger Woods played like no golfer ever has. Golfers appreciate that even more than the rest of us do.