If Tiger Woods had any fears over his first competitive appearance on foreign soil since last year's startling confession of extra-marital affairs, he need not have. Not one show of disrespect was evident at the British Open yesterday towards the troubled world No 1 who returned to golf in April from self-imposed exile. At the US Masters, his first tournament back, planes circled overhead with banners that read, "Sex addict? Yeah right. Sure me too."
At the third major of the year though, excited children buzzed around in delight at the sight of their fallen idol and more mature fans mixed respectful applause with the occasional frenzied "Get in the hole" or "Go Tiger" scream. One man did not know whether to laugh or cry after his shout of support for the 14-time major winner came as the crowd noise around him subsided, his voice wavering towards the end as his friends mocked his efforts.
"They [the fans] have always been respectful and enthusiastic here. There's no reason it would be any different. They were great out there today," Woods told a news conference after an opening 67 left him four strokes adrift of Rory McIlroy, the early leader. Since his private life spectacularly unravelled, the American has vowed to try to be "a better person" but the old on-course petulance occasionally flared up yesterday as he worked his way round the par-72 links layout in easy scoring conditions.
Woods slammed his club into the ground in frustration despite finding the green with his approach at the sixth hole. Then, on the par-three 11th, he shouted, "Bite, bite, bite ... get down. Down!" after his tee shot and stomped away in disgust when the ball failed to obey. When the putts started going down for Woods, the penny dropped for the crowds who cranked up the volume. "They were just enthusiastic. We were making a bunch of birdies so a lot to cheer about. But they were very respectful," said the world No 1. "It [my game] is getting better every week. Every week I'm playing, the things I've been working on have been starting to come together."
His point was proved at the monster par-five 14th, Woods cracking a sweet fairway wood on to the distant green while playing partners Justin Rose and Camilo Villegas were unable to get up the steep bank guarding the putting surfaces. * Reuters