Less than two hours after setting foot in Northern Ireland, Tiger Woods was on the first tee. Photo: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

COUNTY ANTRIM – Less than two hours after setting foot in Northern Ireland for the first time, Tiger Woods had checked into his rental home, changed, and was on the first tee on a glorious Sunday morning for his first look at mighty Royal Portrush.

If you’re charitable, you’d say that what followed over the next five hours was a man moving and talking like a 43-year-old who’d just stepped off the plane from America.

His speech sounded a touch slurred, akin to the end of the Ryder Cup when he was plainly exhausted. His movements were sluggish, too.

After all the speculation about his health amid a schedule that has seen him complete just 10 rounds since winning the Masters, his lack of mobility during his practice round alongside Patrick Reed offered little reassurance.

Woods, however, proffered an explanation as to why he hasn’t been seen since the US Open at Pebble Beach a month ago.

“I told you guys last year that I wouldn’t play as much this year, and that’s how it has turned out,” he said. “The breaks are actually great for my golf.”

Tiger Woods is aware that he has a lot of work to do over the next three days.  Photo: EPA/Etienne Laurent
Tiger Woods is aware that he has a lot of work to do over the next three days. Photo: EPA/Etienne Laurent

Woods positively lit up when asked about the fortnight’s vacation he spent in Thailand.

Accompanied by his Thai mother Tida, girlfriend Erica, and his two children Sam and Charlie, Woods said: “We had the greatest time, and especially with my mum’s diminishing health, for we don’t know how many times we’ll be able to do this again. It was pretty cool for Sam and Charlie to experience the culture at such a young age.”

As for Portrush, he quickly became aware that he has a lot of work to do over the next three days.

“There’s a lot of decisions to make off the tees, with all the angles,” he said. “We know the wind is coming from a different direction from now on, so a lot of the shots we hit today won’t help us much in that regard.

So, Joey (La Cava, his caddy) and I have to figure out what lines to take on and ones we can’t take on. And these green complexes are so complicated, with so many run-offs. You have to miss in the right spot.”

By the time he got to the 18th green alongside the man who helped him into the green jacket in April, word had got round to the extent that the grandstands were probably two-thirds full.

Tiger spent some time putting back and forth across the green and some time leaning on his putter for support. He put a tee peg into the putting surface and aimed for it with two balls from 30ft. He hit the peg both times, and walked off, signing 20 or 30 autographs along the way.

Woods said the plan was to play on each of the next three days - and he’ll need to in his race against time to be ready for the first round on Thursday.

Daily Mail