DURBAN – As they saw that famous name creep up the leaderboard, the galleries went from ten to twenty deep, all desperate to see a glimpse of the Sunday red at work.
Ironically, Tiger Woods just happened to drag those masses to front-row seats to the eventual champion, Francesco Molinari.
In the end, the bright light of the fabled Tiger faded into the back nine, and the greatest player of this generation had to be content with only the knowledge that he still has the game to compete on the biggest stage.
It was Molinari’s moment, and that cannot be overstated. He is in the midst of the year of all his dreams and more, and he deserves every accolade that will come his way.
He won the prestigious BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, and then went to America to claim a first ever PGA title.
He has never played better, and kept his head even as Tiger fever crippled those playing behind them.
Of course, a tied sixth finish will be scant consolation for Woods when he reflects on his final nine holes at the 147th Open.
Winners only count the ‘Ws’, and he knows that history was beckoning him closer to the 18 he craves. But, devastatingly, he limped home, having stalked his way from four back to one up by the turn.
In doing so, he showed a human side. That side was seldom seen during Tiger’s heyday, when Sundays were his for feasting.
And yet, with the more human side, he has grown a new fan base, along with the diehards.
His troubles on and off the course may have broken some men and their game, but he has dusted himself off from injury, global shame and barren form.
Over that magical opening 10 holes, Woods moved the global needle like he used to, and made even casual observers root for him.
That has always been his power; the magnetic ability to make the spectators his 15th club. A little corner of Scotland embraced him all weekend, desperate to see one of the immortals climb back to the top.
The Open Championship has always been a weekend that defies age and the modern obsession with distance off the tee.
The courses are old school, so not overly long. That is not to say they are not brutal, of course. Temperament is a more important weapon in the bag than power, as Molinari so vividly showed.
What we can be sure of, even in deflating defeat, is that Woods is well and truly back amongst the most competitive players in the world.
He still has the game, the power, the poise and the hunger to win even the biggest prizes in this sport.
His display at Carnoustie, regarded as the toughest on the Open Championship rota, is one he can be proud of, considering the pain and suffering he endured to get back to that point.
And, as he walked off the 18th green, his kids met him on the way to the clubhouse.
Woods noted that his children, now grown, had only seen his golfing struggles. They were too young to know that they’re the cubs of the biggest cat in the world in the 2000s, when he was the man.
So, this win would have meant even more than the others, because he would have done it in front of his two most important fans. They, like the rest of us, will have to wait for that victory celebration a little bit longer.
But, after this weekend, there is a sense the wait will not be too long.
Far from fading into the night, there is brilliantly striped light at the end of the tunnel.@whamzam17