PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — The rains came and the wind strafed the Dunluce Course at Royal Portrush on Wednesday, but that other force of nature, Tiger Woods, didn’t let that stop him from putting in a bit of work on the eve of the 148th Open Championship.
Amid some of the heaviest afternoon rain that fell on this famed links course, Woods tidied up his golf swing and his putting stroke in a practice session that lasted approximately 55 minutes. Tiger appeared relaxed, and he smiled and laughed with the people around him, including caddie Joe LaCava and Golf Channel broadcaster and close friend Notah Begay III.
Woods arrived at Royal Portrush a little after 3 p.m. local time and ventured to the range around 4. Within minutes, the skies opened up and heavy rain accompanied by gusting winds chased away all but a few players. Woods and Jason Day were the last two to leave the range. The grandstands were nearly full watching the reigning Masters champion, who has won the Open three times, the last in 2006. He finished T-6 a year ago at Carnoustie, a performance that signaled his comeback culminating in his Masters victory in April.
After going through the bag and finishing with several drives that went laser straight, Woods made his way to the putting green, where putting instructor Matt Killen watched him hit a series of long and short putts.
Woods practiced without raingear, save a vest, and his blue slacks were soaked when he finished. Before he made his way to a cart that took him back to the clubhouse, he rolled a handful of balls to the 100 or so fans who had remained. One fan nearly fell over the white picket fence stretching for a souvenir.
The timing of his practice session in mid-afternoon made sense considering that his first-round starting time Thursday is 3:10 p.m. local time, when he’ll be joined by 2018 Masters winner Patrick Reed and Englishman Matt Wallace.
Woods was expected to practice at least briefly Wednesday after his remarks during his Tuesday press conference hinted at less than full readiness for what could be a rugged Open examination.
“It’s not quite as sharp as I’d like to have it right now,” Woods, 43, said after being asked to assess his preparedness compared to the day before the start of the Masters in April. “My touch around the greens is right where I need to have it. I still need to get the ball … the shape of the golf ball a little bit better than I am right now, especially with the weather coming in and the winds are going to be changing. I’m going to have to be able to cut the ball, draw the ball, hit at different heights and move it all around.
“[Tuesday] was a good range session. I need another one [Wednesday]. And hopefully that will be enough to be ready.”
Despite the poor weather, it was doubtful Woods would have skipped the final warm-up before the year’s last major. In May, fighting illness, he did not appear at Bethpage Black on the eve of the 101st PGA Championship. He ended up missing the cut by a stroke.
Rain or shine, Woods did not have any plans to play the course on Wednesday. Few players attempted more than nine holes in the near-constant rain and persistent winds out of the south. The forecast calls for winds out of the southwest the remainder of the week, with a 70 percent chance of showers, some heavy, in the afternoon on Thursday when Woods is schedule to play.
“I think that I’ve seen enough of [the course],” Woods said on Tuesday, “to understand that I’m still going to have to do quite a bit of homework in my yardage book of trying to figure out how I’m going to play each hole with the different winds that are going to be predicted to blow and where to miss the golf ball in the correct spots.
“I just think that this venue … it’s just amazing it’s been this long that it’s taken for us to come back here. It’s such a great venue. Everyone who’s played it, whether it’s guys who grew up here or people who have come up here and just have played, they’ve always enjoyed it. They’ve always enjoyed playing this golf course.
“And I can understand why. It’s straightforward,” he added. “It is tricky a little bit here and there, but overall, it’s just a wonderful links golf course.”
Tiger appears a bit more ready to take it on. Elements and all.