There is a Tiger Woods-sized absence at Royal Liverpool that is as big as the presence of any in the 2023 field, and might yet be permanent. Woods is recovering from surgery on a plantar fasciitis injury that forced his withdrawal during the third round of the Masters in April.
A year ago at St Andrews, clearly struggling with the catastrophic effects of the injuries he sustained in the car crash of February 2021, Woods missed the cut. The emotional walk up the 18th and the acceptance of the cheers from the stands felt like a farewell to the tournament he has won three times, twice at the home of golf and finally here at Hoylake in 2006.
“That week  was a very emotional one,” Woods said in accepting an award for services to golf given by the Golf Writers’ Association. “It was the first championship I ever won without my dad being there. It was a tough, tough week, but also probably the most gratifying that I have ever experienced over there.”
Woods was unusually expressive in his commentary, revealing his appreciation of the tournament’s historic importance. “All my years of playing the Open Championship, starting at St Andrew’s in 1995, have been some of the greatest moments, and greatest memories, I have had. Not just in my golfing career, but in my whole life.
“My career has spanned a number of years, a number of decades. Some days are tough, and I particularly remember the Saturday in 2002 at Muirfield. That was the worst day I have ever known, and probably the worst in the history of golf.
“I have never felt that cold. I have never felt that wet. And I have never felt that miserable.
“I remember a couple of my friends among the writers from the UK offering me cups of coffee when I walked in to speak to you. That was great, and I have enjoyed my relationship over the years with the writers and the fans who really understand and respect the sport.”
For this generation of golfers Woods is already a museum piece. For example, world No 1 Scottie Scheffler, 20 years his junior, has no memory of watching him live. Thank goodness for YouTube, the medium via which Scheffler familiarised himself with Hoylake watching re-runs of Woods’ stellar victory here.
“Most of my young memories of Tiger are just watching him win a lot and seeing him make all the putts, whether it was here at The Open or the putt at Torrey always stands out. He’s in a different position in the game now than where he was as more of a spokesperson. We hope that he can come out and play more, but we’re very appreciative of all the years that we had with him, watching him play, and the few years that I got being able to compete against him.”
It is impossible to overstate the impact Woods has had on this game. His victory at a sun-bleached St Andrews in 2000 at the peak of that incredible first flowering seemed pre-ordained. Having won the US Open by a record 15 strokes at Pebble Beach, he shot four rounds in the 60’s to reach 19 under par, a major record and the lowest aggregate at golf’s ancestral home.
It seemed then he would rewrite all golf’s records. Though he would fall short of the numbers set by Jack Nicklaus, the win percentage between between 1997 and 2008, when he claimed 14 of his 15 majors, was greater than any in the history of the game. His 15th major championship at the 2019 Masters rivalled the 1986 Augusta triumph of Nicklaus for poignancy, one more epic demonstration of his gifts at the place were it all started.
At 47 a return to the Open is not beyond him. A meaningful return is another matter, however. Then again, he is Tiger Woods.
“I just want to say thank you for bringing joy to my life when I go over there to play the Open Championship. The history, the knowledge, the passing on of stories so I can pass them on to my son, and to future generations.”