Woods can still win a Major
I saw two versions of Tiger Woods last week.
On Wednesday, thanks to the good people at Rolex, I was lucky enough to shake hands with the man at the Patron's Hospitality tent.
Woods was there with Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Phil Mickelson for a meet-and-greet session with Rolex guests prior to the Tournament of Champions at St Andrews, which sees all past Open winners play a four-hole contest in a team event format.
Even though he was together with three other World Golf of Hall inductees, and men with a combined 21 Majors, there was no doubt who the star of the show was.
When Tiger strode into the room, there was a palpable ripple of excitement and I waited anxiously to meet him.
The 39-year-old American strode up to me and extended his hand, giving a firm handshake.
He then looked me straight in the eyes as I introduced myself, nodding and replying, "Hi, I'm Tiger. How do you do?"
What struck me immediately was how fit and powerful Woods looked, full of confidence and walking with a spring in his step.
I asked him if he had gotten out to the course that morning and he replied: "No, I didn't today. I did some practice and have been hitting some balls instead."
Tiger then took the time to make fun of the pants of one of my colleagues, famous golf humourist Clive Agran.
"Just got out of bed, did you?" he said to Agran, who was wearing blue and green tartan pants.
"I like your pyjamas," he continued, with a deadpan face, only breaking into a smile later.
I immediately messaged one of my colleagues to give him an update on Woods, adding, "He looks fit and ready to go".
TIGER FALLS PREY
Little did I know that on the very first hole on Thursday, Tiger would again fall prey to the demons that have been haunting him, making bogey on one of the simplest holes on the course after hitting a "fat" wedge shot into the famous Swilcan Burn.
It proved to be a bad omen for the rest of the round too, as the former world No. 1 hit quite a few "fatted" shots and posted a dismal four-over 76.
The second round, which was completed early yesterday morning (Singapore time) due to poor weather, proved little better.
Needing to shoot a low round to make the cut, Tiger instead went further backwards with a 75, his seven-over 151 total made to look worse by playing partners Jason Day and Louis Oosthuizen, who were both 14 shots better than the three-time British Open winner over two rounds.
At the end of that second round, where I followed Woods for his final six holes following the weather delay, he cut a dismal figure, although the predominantly Scottish crowd cheered on his every shot.
After a 10-hour delay to his round, Woods finished bogey-bogey-bogey-birdie-par-par.
How did he play?
The 39-year-old American was shorter off the tee than both Oosthuizen and Day, hit poorer iron shots than the South African, chipped worse than both men and three-putted the 14th, 15th and 18th holes.
For the record, Woods also was nearly last in every statistical category in the field of 156, with 19 fairways hit (142nd), 23 greens-in-regulation (135th) and only three birdies made (142nd).
The only category he was decent in was driving distance, where his 308-yard average ranked him 17th.
To his credit, Woods still gathered the courage to face the media throng after his round, which gave me a second opportunity to get up and close with the man.
It was just four days since we met, but his face seemed to have aged a few years.
Gone was the spring in his step and his eyes looked sunken and forlorn.
Woods was shaking his head the whole five minutes he answered questions, using words like "disappointing" and "frustrating" as he spoke of how he was "just not scoring".
I could see the pain etched in his eyes as he was asked how he was dealing with "not being competitive".
Although no one was callous enough to say it to his face, more than a few commentators, including former American Ryder Cupper Paul Azinger, called Woods "delusional" to believe that he could win this week.
Ranked 241st in the world, and likely to slip further this week, Woods has given plenty of reasons for his critics to write new versions of his epitaph.
And though I believe that the chase for Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 Majors is over, I am not writing off Woods' chances for another one, not yet.
Much lesser golfers have come through to pull off Major triumphs through a combination of good play and luck over the years.
Woods is too good a competitor to never put together a good week at a Major again.
When Oosthuizen was asked if he knew whether Woods' problems were more physical or mental, he replied: "I'm not going to say anything to a guy who has won 14 Majors."
That's right people, lest you forget, he's won 14.
He knows how to do it.
It will happen again, trust me.
Maybe not soon, but it will happen.
"I only made three birdies in two days. That’s not very good. The golf course wasn’t playing that hard, i just didn’t get much out of any of the two rounds."
— Tiger Woods on missing the cut
"Keep going. Keep going forward."
— Woods on how to revive his fortunes
"I’ll probably have less hair then and hopefully a little better game."
— Woods, who will be nearly 45 when the British Open returns to St Andrews in 2020