Not that the former – and possibly soon-to-be again – world No.1 spent much time in the stuff during his second round at Lytham, but the man who had set the Open agenda with his remarks about the state of the course at the start of the week has looked more and more comfortable in his surroundings as each day has gone by.
His final blow last night, when he holed out from a greenside bunker at the 18th, brought an almighty roar from the gallery and had seasoned Woods-watchers debating the precise angle of his arm during his celebratory fist pump. Was it a defiant 90 degrees, like that one at the Memorial tournament after his astonishing flop shot at the 16th, or was it like those almost apologetic efforts he produced when he was trying to haul his reputation out of the mire?
Something between the two, they concluded. A flash of that old hauteur, then a leavening of humility in the follow-through. A bit like his round, in fact, as he carved out his second successive 67, in circumstances far more demanding than when he put together his first, with a kind of magnificent conservatism. This wasn't a man who was just being cautious; this was someone whose mind was working like a slide rule.
Woods has long since mastered the art of the sideways glance at the scoreboard. During his wilderness period there was a time when he didn't seem to care what else was going on, but yesterday he was working things out. No disrespect to Brandt Snedeker, whose journeyman syllables could yet be engraved on the Claret Jug tomorrow evening, but you could almost hear Woods doing the maths. "I don't have to push," he was saying to himself. "Not yet."
And so we had one of those exhibitions of Woods doing just what he needed to do. Jackie Stewart used to pride himself on winning races as slowly as he could, and Woods has clearly set his mind on doing something similar here in Lancashire. "I figured I had a gameplan that I thought would fit well on this course," he said at the finish. "And I figured I could execute it. And I've done that so far."
A dozen years ago, Woods – and, let's be honest, the rest of us – revelled in the way he reduced the rest of the field to a spectating role, cleaning up major titles by margins that would once have seemed unimaginable. In the space of four weeks, he took the US Open at Pebble Beach by 15 shots and the Open at St Andrews by eight. He sent shockwaves through the sport, but he would be happy to take the title at Lytham by one stroke. Less if he could get away with it.
Which is why he was back in Hoylake mode yesterday. In 2006, he barely touched his driver all week, taking irons off the tee and trusting in the baked fairways of that scorching summer to do the rest. The sodden Lytham track could scarcely be more different, but after taking his driver at the second hole and his 3-wood at the third, Woods did not use a wood off the tee again.
There was another similarity. At Hoylake, he had been paired with Sergio Garcia in the final round and after enduring a week of cockiness from the Spaniard he taught the younger man a lesson over the last 18 holes. Woods pulled ahead early and shot 67, while Garcia, preposterously dressed in a canary yellow outfit, shot 73. The word was that Woods felt Garcia was showing a lack of respect. On a ferociously hot day, there was a decidedly frosty atmosphere between them. Watching them together yesterday, you wouldn't argue that things had become any friendlier in the six years since.
Woods certainly did not seem troubled by the fact that Garcia cobbled together a lumpy 72 and missed the cut by one shot. While that was going on, he made only one significant error of his own, pulling his iron tee shot into the rough, a mistake that led to a bogey six on what should have been a straightforward par-5 hole. On a day of rollercoaster scoring, Woods' round was almost serene.
Yet something was eating him at the end. Woods has a powerful work ethic, but he has rarely been one to rush from the 18th green to the practice ground. That, though, was exactly what he did, spending a good half-hour clipping iron shots down the range. There were only a couple of other players there by then, but his change of routine will set tongues wagging in the locker room.
In short, he's serious about this one. Three tournament victories in the US this year have brought him back into the world's top 10 and victory at Lytham will put him right at the top – the only place he really feels comfortable.
He's back and he's hungry. He's lurking in that undergrowth again.
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