ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (AP) — They stood on the 18th tee in St. Andrews, a foursome who have collectively won 43 major championships spanning nearly six decades.
Tiger Woods doesn’t like ceremonial golf very much. There are exceptions, and a British Open at the birthplace of golf that celebrates R&A champions would be one of them.
He played with four-time major champion Rory McIlroy and six-time major champion Lee Trevino, who won his two pitchers of claret a few years before Woods was born. Jack Nicklaus was there with him, the gold standard in terms of major tournaments with his 18 titles.
Nicklaus did not bring his clubs to St. Andrews. He came back to become an honorary citizen.
Nicklaus was there to greet most champions on the first tee of the four-hole exhibition around the loop on the Old Course (holes 1, 2 17 and 18), and he couldn’t help but join the last group at the end – Woods, Trevino, McIlroy and Georgia Hall, R&A ambassador and winner of the Women’s British Amateur and Women’s British Open.
Trevino held court because that’s what Trevino does.
“Let me show you Jack putting,” he said, then he did the moves, watching the imaginary line carefully, crouching over the ball and kicking it.
“The best putter ever,” said Trevino.
“You forgot something,” Nicklaus said, then raised his left arm, his signature move when he landed the most important putts. He did it on the 17th green when he won the 1986 Masters aged 46 and the 18th at St. Andrews in 2005 when his last putt in his last 166 Majors was a birdie.
Trevino then passed around the corner, never a force from Nicklaus as the Golden Bear rarely missed the green. Trevino deliberately drove the corner into the turf, which made him nervous when he realized he had taken a big divot on the 18th tee. He forgot where they were.
Woods turned around, howling with laughter.
“It was Jack the ninth to Merion,” Trevino said, referring to their 1971 US Open qualifier which Trevino won. Nicklaus playfully protested, only for Trevino to say, “You laid the turf on the ball!”
“These guys weren’t even born back then,” Nicklaus said.
“I know. That’s why I tell them,” Trevino said, and there were smiles all around.
Only in St. Andrews.
“The Celebration of Champions” is a treat, which only takes place in the house of golf and not even every year. This was first done in 2000 for the millennium. It was repeated in 2010 for the 150th anniversary of the Open, except bad weather canceled the occasion. So they ended it in 2015. Woods played that year with Tom Weiskopf, Mark O’Meara and Nick Price.
McIlroy missed that year after injuring his knee while playing football.
He wouldn’t have missed this one for the world.
“It’s amazing,” McIlroy said. “Playing at St. Andrews, former champion, playing with my hero. If you had told 10-year-old Rory that you would be part of something like this, I wouldn’t have believed you. It was really, really cool. Really special.
With so much star power, the question had to be asked: who was the hero?
McIlroy burst out laughing. Considering his age (33), it was Woods, and it always has been. After a charity pro-am a week ago in the west of Ireland, Woods and McIlroy played an unannounced practice round at Ballybunion, a huge treat for the legendary Irish club.
“And Jack also became close to me, just because he lived at Bear’s Club, where he trained,” McIlroy said. “For me, I couldn’t do that in 2015, it’s good to be able to be a part of it.”
This one was different from the other two. The R&A invited its champions, and not all of them had won the silver burgundy jug.
There were 25 former British Open champions stretching from Gary Player (1959) to Collin Morikawa (2021). It included Hall, Laura Davies and reigning Women’s British Open champion Anna Nordqvist, amateur winners of the championship the R&A helps organize, such as Keita Nakajima (Asia-Pacific Amateur), the No. 1 player in amateur golf.
Also included were three players from the Disabled Golf competitions, such as Kipp Popert, who has cerebral palsy and last month became the first disabled golfer to play in the British Amateur at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
The 150th Open begins Thursday. It wasn’t a bad warm-up act.