ST. ANDREWS – They stood on the 18th tee at St. Andrews, a foursome that collectively has won 43 major championships spanning nearly six decades.
Tiger Woods isn't big on ceremonial golf. There are exceptions, and a British Open at the home of golf that celebrates the R&A's 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 claret jugs a few years before Woods was born. Along for the ride was Jack Nicklaus, the gold standard when it comes to majors with his 18 titles.
Nicklaus didn't bring his clubs to St. Andrews. He returned to become an honorary citizen.
Nicklaus was there to greet most of the 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 up with the last group at the end — Woods, Trevino, McIlroy and Georgia Hall, an R&A ambassador and winner of the Women's British Amateur and Women's British Open.
Trevino was holding court because that's what Trevino does.
“Let me show you Jack putting,” he said, and then he went through the motions, staring intently at the imaginary line, crouching over the ball and giving it a whack.
“Greatest putter ever,” Trevino said.
“You left something out,” Nicklaus said, and then he raised his left arm, his signature move when he holed the most important putts. He did that on the 17th green when he won the 1986 Masters at age 46 and on the 18th in St. Andrews in 2005 when his final putt in the last of his 166 majors was a birdie.
Trevino then moved on to the wedge, never a strength of Nicklaus because the Golden Bear rarely missed the green. Trevino purposely chunked the wedge into the turf, which made him nervous when he realized he took a fat divot out of the 18th tee. He forgot where they were.
Woods turned around howling with laughter.
“This was Jack on the ninth at Merion,” Trevino said, referring to their playoff for the U.S. Open in 1971 that Trevino won. Nicklaus playfully protested, only for Trevino to say, “You laid the sod over the ball!”
“These guys weren't even born then,” Nicklaus said.
“I know. That's why I'm telling them,” Trevino said, and there were smiles all round.
Only at St. Andrews.
“The Celebration of Champions” is a treat, held only at the home of golf and not even every year. It was first done in 2000 for the millennial. It was repeated in 2010 for the 150-year anniversary of the Open, except that nasty weather canceled the occasion. So they finished it off in 2015. Woods played that year with Tom Weiskopf, Mark O'Meara and Nick Price.
McIlroy famously missed that year after injuring his knee while playing soccer.
He wouldn't have missed this one for the world.
“It's unbelievable,” McIlroy said. “Playing St. Andrews, past champion, playing with my hero. If you had told 10-year-old Rory you'd 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: Which was the hero?
McIlroy laughed. Given his age (33), it was Woods, and 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 storied Irish club.
“And Jack has become close to me as well, just from living at the Bear's Club, practicing there,” McIlroy said. “For me not getting to do this in 2015, it's nice to be able to part of it.”
This was different from the other two. The R&A invited its champions, and not all of them had won the silver claret jug.
There were 25 former British Open champions that spanned Gary Player (1959) to Collin Morikawa (2021). It included Hall, Laura Davies and defending Women's British Open champion Anna Nordqvist, amateur winners from 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 golfer with a disability to play in the British Amateur at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
The 150th Open starts Thursday. This wasn't a bad warmup act.
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