Open 2022: Rory McIlroy’s hat tip serves as meaningful ode to Tiger Woods’ legendary impact on golf

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Rarely in sports does history reveal itself so conspicuously in the moment. In most cases, time contextualizes what was witnessed. Looking back helps us discern how it fits with everything else that’s happened.

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And then there’s what went down in the widest fairway in golf Friday afternoon at St. Andrews: Tiger Woods limping towards an uncertain future at majors, Rory McIlroy Bouncing away from his frustrating recent past at the same event. Woods and McIlroy met in the middle — one person Suggested that Rory pulled his tee shot on No. 1 as Tiger came up No. 18 to create the moment (hilarious but untrue) — and the most romantic place in golf, during the 150th Open Championship, delivered a moment one could never script.

As Woods raised his left hand to acknowledge the Legion into which he was walking, McIlroy raised his as well. Rory lightly grabbed his blue Nike cap just as Tiger secured his white one. As golf gestures go, it was understated; but to Tiger Woods, it meant the world.

“As I walked further along the fairway, I saw Rory right there,” Woods said. “He gave me the tip of the cap. It was a pretty cool — the Nods I was getting from guys as they were going out and I was coming in, just the respect, that was pretty neat. And from a players’ Fraternity level, it’s neat to see that and feel that.”

Woods continued: “Just the amount of understanding and respect from all the people that are involved in this event, that come out in support of the players. The Nods I was getting as the players were going out [were touching moments].”

For McIlroy, it was obviously meaningful. He was wistful about Woods missing the cut on a in which Rory legitimately thought Tiger could contend.

“I just hope — everyone hopes it’s not the end of his Old Course career,” McIlroy said after the round. “I think he deserves, we deserve him to have another crack at it.

“Hopefully, The Open’s back here in four or five years’ time and he does get another crack at it because with how good he’s been throughout his career and how good he’s been at the Old Course, I think that’s not the way for him to go out. He’s got better in him.”

For McIlroy, although the act of spending time with Woods has become rote; they played a match together last week at Ballybunion in Ireland. But there’s a part of him that can’t believe this is how his life has turned out.

The substance of 33-year-old Rory still consists of bits and pieces of 7-year-old Rory, and 7-year-old Rory would have howled at the idea that tipping his cap to Tiger — on the Old Course at St .Andrews as peers playing an Open — would be more Meaningful to Tiger than to him.

“I’ve gotten pretty close to Tiger over these last few years,” McIlroy added. “And especially after the accident, and I think we’ve all sort of rallied around him down there in Jupiter. And we all want to see him do well.

“He was all our Hero growing up, even though I’m maybe a touch older than some of the other guys. But we want to see him do well. We want to see him still out there competing. And this week was obviously a tough week for him. But we’re all behind him; we’re all pulling for him.”

The moment they briefly shared Friday is a chameleon. It will take on a different meaning if, for example, McIlroy wins Sunday or Woods returns to the Old Course in a handful of years.

On Saturday morning at the 150th Open Championship, though, Rory’s hat tip stands as an ode.

An ode to the Old and the magic that courses the sand beneath this ground. An ode to this tournament, which is the grandest in the world. An ode to St. Andrews, which looked on as the two most important players of the last three decades seemed to hold the entire tournament in their mutual gaze.

An ode to McIlroy, his reverence for history and his abiding affection for important moments.

“I’ve always been a big person of, ‘What does this mean? What’s the meaning behind things?'” McIlroy told CBS Sports. “Sometimes, I maybe do that too much. It’s hard for me not to put whatever I’m about to do in context with everything else.”

Most of all, it was an ode to Woods. A nod from the present and the future that golf is on another plane because of its past. An ode to perhaps the most perfect golf that’s ever been played at the most perfect golf course that’s ever been built. An ode to the fact that what Tiger did mattered to more people than he realized. An ode to the reality that even the most powerful, famous player in the game today is still at least partially in awe of what Tiger constructed and how he transformed the sport.

It was the type of moment that could have happened in a thousand different places yet would not have meant as much as it did on that square field that houses the most stunning opening tee shot in major Championship golf alongside the most picturesque closing drive.

So often in golf, the nuance is the point. Such is the case with the Old Course, which you could play every day for the rest of your life and never completely figure out. Several players this week have commented about how little they still know about this place even after having played it all week.

It was fitting that, over the first two days at the Open Championship, it was the tiniest gesture — a nod and grab of the cap that lasted no more than 2 seconds and was barely picked up on the broadcast — that serves as the most powerful thing that’s been said all week.


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