Tiger Woods on the fairway during the fourth round of the British Open Golf Championship at Carnoustie, Photo: Gerry Penny/EPA

CARNOUSTIE – Not so long ago they were saying he was washed up, finished, but for a spell on Sunday it seemed as if Tiger Woods was ready to shove the words of his critics right back down their throats.

Although he ultimately came up short in his quest to achieve Mission Impossible in the British Open at Carnoustie, the 42-year-old American showed that his dream of landing a 15th major victory need not be such a fanciful idea after all.

“This wasn't a fluke,” 2017 Open champion Jordan Spieth told reporters. “He'll come back stronger for sure.”

Asked if Spieth felt he and his rivals would now be dealing with Woods's name hovering on leaderboards for a number of years to come, the three-time major winner replied: “I think so, yeah”.

Woods, without a victory in a 'Big Four' event for 10 years, surged into first place with a faultless front nine before his challenge unravelled with three dropped shots in two holes from the 11th.

He eventually had to settle for a share of sixth spot, three strokes behind winner Francesco Molinari of Italy.

Woods admitted earlier in the week the latest back operation he underwent in April 2017 had left him wondering whether he had played his last British Open, a tournament he won in 2000, 2005 and 2006.

Woods' game at Carnoustie this weekend was no fluke, said Jordan Spieth. Photo: Will Oliver/EPA
Woods' game at Carnoustie this weekend was no fluke, said Jordan Spieth. Photo: Will Oliver/EPA

“I know it's going to sting for a little bit but given where I was to where I am now, (I feel) blessed,” he said after Sunday's round.

The “where I was” referred to the years of debilitating back pain finally solved by a spinal fusion 15 months ago that allowed him to resume his career after four years of severely-curtailed appearances.

For the first time Woods's two young children were totally aware of what he was doing out on the course.

“I told them I tried, and I said, 'Hopefully you're proud of your pops for trying as hard as I did', he said. “It's pretty emotional because they gave me some pretty significant hugs there and squeezed.

“They know how good it feels to be back playing again. It's so special to have them aware because I've won a lot of golf tournaments in my career but they don't remember any of them.

“The only thing they've seen is my struggles and the pain I was going through. Now they just want to go play soccer with me. Man, it's such a great feeling,” added Woods.