Tiger Woods’ swing at St Andrews ‘looks as good as ever’, says Justin Thomas

As Justin Thomas insisted it would be no shock to see Tiger Woods in contention at the Open Championship, the three-time winner Nick Faldo wrote off the prospect of a 16th major success for the 46-year-old Woods at St Andrews. Faldo even floated the idea of this Open bringing the curtain down on the American’s celebrated career.

Woods and Thomas played a five-hour practice round at the Old Course on Sunday, during which the former walked with a heavy limp. Woods, who skipped last month’s US Open, is still showing the effects of a serious car crash in February last year. He did, however, sign off in fine fashion; Woods drove the green at the par-four 18th before watching a 20ft eagle putt hang on the lip of the hole.

Afterwards, Thomas talked up his close friend’s Open opportunity. “His swing still looks as good as ever,” said the US PGA champion. “Would I be surprised if he challenged this week? No. I’ve learned better than to challenge anything about him.”

Faldo is unconvinced. The Englishman believes the scale of exertion required to prevail in a major remains beyond Woods. “I don’t think there’s chances, no,” said Faldo when asked on Sky Sports whether Woods could win the Claret Jug. “Physically, he played at Adare Manor [in last week’s JP McManus pro-am] and was in a cart for a couple of days to rest the leg. The physical challenge is just walking a golf course and even though St Andrews looks flat, there’s so many twisting undulations walking that course, it’s going to be physically really hard work for him.

“Even if Tiger was fit and strong, he doesn’t play much, and these kids [the world’s top players] are young and strong. Who knows what we’re going to get from Tiger, where he mentally is and what he’s thinking.

“If you’re going to retire then this is the place to retire, but is it too early? What does he know and what does he believe about his leg or his golf game? What possibilities are out there? I don’t know. Tiger always keeps things very close to his chest.”

Thomas has sought St Andrews insight from Woods, who has won two Opens at this venue. “A little bit,” Thomas said. “I understand he is going to withhold some information but I’m trying to get as much out of him as I can because he has done pretty well around this place.” Thomas, the world No 5, is widely tipped to have a strong Open performance.

He declared himself a huge fan of St Andrews. “I love it here, it’s incredible,” said the 29-year-old. “It’s very special. It’s unique. It is the most true links Open I have ever played. It’s such a fun place. I’ve never had such a productive missed cut as at the Scottish Open on Friday because it’s been so nice to come out here and have two days of preparation.”

Thomas played down widespread fears the Old Course could be pulled apart by competitors, owing to the likelihood of gentle weather conditions and advancements in technology. “The fairways are already firm,” Thomas explained. “If the greens end up getting baked and become firm like the fairways, with where they could place these pins you aren’t going to be able to get very close to them. It’s going to take a lot of discipline, patience and shot-making.”

On the famous Road Hole, the 17th, Thomas landed an errant drive in the grounds of the Old Course hotel. The ball only narrowly missed the former chief executive of the R&A, Peter Dawson, who at least saw the funny side of the incident.