ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- As Tiger Woods started his walk down the 18th fairway of the Old Course at St. Andrews on Friday, he noticed that his caddie, Joe LaCava, and playing partners, Matt Fitzpatrick and Max Homa, had stopped behind him.
The trio were waiting for Woods, a three-time Open winner, to cross the famous Swilcan Bridge. As Woods slowly walked across the iconic stone landmark at the "home of golf," he tipped his cap to the thousands of fans who were cheering for him. Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas, who were walking down the fairway of the adjoining first hole, tipped their own hats at Woods.
"That's when I started to realize, hey, the next time it comes around here, I might not be around," Woods said.
Woods, a 15-time major champion, even wiped away a few tears before reaching the 18th green.
"I'm not one who gets very teary-eyed very often about anything," Woods said. "But when it comes to the game and the passing on, just the transition, I was lucky enough in '95 to watch Arnold [Palmer] hit his first tee shot in the second round as I was going to the range.
"And I could hear Jack [Nicklaus] playing his last one [in 2005]. I was probably about four holes behind him. But just to hear the ovations getting louder and louder and louder, I felt that as I was coming in [this year]. The people knew that I wasn't going to make the cut at the number I was. But the ovations got louder as I was coming home. And that to me was -- it felt, just the respect. I've always respected this event. I've always respected the traditions of the game."
Woods, a three-time winner of The Open, including in 2000 and 2005 at St. Andrews, won't be around for the 150th anniversary celebration this weekend. He carded a 3-over 75 in the second round, and his 36-hole total of 9 over was well behind the leaders.
Given the R&A's rotation, The Open probably won't be back at St. Andrews until 2027, at the earliest, when Woods will be 51. After his round on Friday, he acknowledged that it might have been his last Open at St. Andrews -- but said it wasn't his final one altogether.
"I'm not retiring from the game," Woods said. "But I don't know if I will be physically able to play back here again when it comes back around. I'll be able to play future British Opens, yes, but eight years' time, I doubt if I'll be competitive at this level."
More than 16 months after he was seriously injured in a car wreck outside Los Angeles in February 2021, Woods said he didn't know when he would play in a tournament again. It might not be until late November, when he hosts the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, which benefits his foundation and other charities.
"I have nothing, nothing planned. Zero," Woods said. "Maybe something next year. I don't know. But nothing in the near future. This is it. I was just hoping to play this one event this year. And I was lucky enough, again, [to get] three events in, and they're all majors. So I feel very fortunate to have had things happen this way [after] the struggles I've been through to get to this point."
Woods' competitors were hoping it wasn't the last time they would see him at St. Andrews.
"I don't know if this will be Tiger's last one here," Scottie Scheffler said Friday. "He may have spoken about it a bit, but he's a pretty resilient guy and he loves to compete. We'll see what he has in store for us the next few years. Anytime you can see that guy out on the golf course, especially the Old Course, it's really special."
England's Tyrrell Hatton also hoped Woods would be back at St. Andrews playing again.
"If it is [the end], it would be a pretty sad day," Hatton said. "It will be a sad day for golf when that time comes in general. But like I said, hopefully not. For us as players, to have him around is pretty cool. When he got in that car wreck, [we] didn't know if we'd have him back. Just to have him out here playing golf is pretty special for all of us."
Woods was asked whether he might be able to play more events in the future, which would allow him to better prepare to compete in majors. After his wreck, he said surgeons nearly had to amputate his right leg. It took him several months to regain enough strength to walk again, let alone swing a driver and walk 18 holes.
"I understand being more battle-hardened, but it's hard just to walk and play 18 holes," Woods said. "People have no idea what I have to go through and the hours of the work on the body, pre- and post-[round], each and every single day, to do what I just did. That's what people don't understand -- they don't see. And then you think about playing more events on top of that, it's hard enough just to do what I did."
Woods unexpectedly returned to competition at the Masters in April. He shot 1-under 71 in the opening round and made the cut before fading on the weekend in cold weather. He finished 47th, after carding a 6-over 78 in each of the final two rounds, his worst scores at Augusta National.
In May, Woods also made the cut at the PGA Championship at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He rallied to make the cut with a 1-under 69 in the second round but was forced to withdraw after 54 holes because of pain in his surgically repaired leg. He shot 9-over 79 in the third round, his worst score at the PGA Championship.
Woods seemed to be headed toward another low at St. Andrews, but he played much better Friday. He mostly avoided the big mistakes and three-putts that plagued him in the opening round, in which he shot a dismal 6-over 78.
"I'm a little ticked that I'm not playing on the weekend," Woods said. "I certainly did not play good enough to be around. I wish I would have played better. I wish I had a little bit better break at the first hole yesterday and maybe started off a little better. But that's just kind of how it all went from there. Just never really kind of materialized. I fought hard, and, unfortunately, I just could never turn it around."