No matter that the former world number one was about to miss the halfway cut at the landmark 150th staging of the world’s oldest major, the standing ovation was recognition of his standing in the game.
Woods has won two of his three Claret Jugs at the revered St Andrews venue and skipped last month’s US Open to ensure he would be fit to play his favourite course this week.
The 46-year-old did not say it would be his final Open Championship, but added: “I came to understand what Jack [Nicklaus] and Arnold [Palmer] felt in the past and I felt that way. They understand what golf is all about and what it takes to be an Open champion.
“I have been lucky enough to win here twice – it felt emotional because I don’t know whether I will be able to play when it comes back here.”
The Open usually returns to St Andrews every five years, which would make the next one in 2027, although an official announcement is yet to be made.
Woods finished with a three-over-par 75 for a nine-over total, 22 shots adrift of Cameron Smith, who leads after two rounds.
The Australian world number six carded an eight-under-par 64 as he improved to 13 under.
Smith leads by two from American Cameron Young on a leaderboard stacked with the world’s best.
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy is on 10 under with Norway’s Viktor Hovland, while two-time major winner Dustin Johnson is at nine under, one ahead of world number one Scottie Scheffler and England’s Tyrrell Hatton.
But while the tournament ploughed on, few will forget the send-off for Woods.
An opening six-over-par 78 in round one left Woods saying he would “need a 66” to make the weekend. That would have been a tall order were the 15-time major winner in good health, but nigh-on impossible given he is still feeling the after-effects of the car crash in February 2021 that almost cost him his right leg.
A smile flashed across his face after a birdie on the third. But all thoughts of that 66 were extinguished by bogeys on the fourth and sixth holes.
A run of nine pars followed before he tried a flop shot over a greenside bunker on the 16th and only succeeded in sticking his ball in the sand, walking off with a double-bogey six.
Regardless of his performance, Woods was cheered round the links by thousands of fans eager for a glimpse of the man who has had such a huge impact on the game over the past quarter of a century.
He was playing with Matt Fitzpatrick, who triumphed at Brookline in June to win his first major. And the Englishman and playing partner Max Homa paused to let Woods cross the iconic Swilcan Bridge alone and acknowledge the adulation.
“It gave me goosebumps,” said Fitzpatrick. “Just looking around, seeing everyone stood up, and giving him a standing ovation coming down 18. Yeah, it was incredible. It’s something that will live with me forever.”
Woods had to compose himself before playing his final chip over the Valley of Sin, muttering “come on, come on” to himself. He nudged the ball to within four feet but then missed the birdie putt.
Fitzpatrick also missed a birdie putt but he signed for the 66 that Woods had craved, to reach six under at halfway.
Scoring goes low in calm conditions
Just as Woods was finishing up about 15:00 BST, Rory McIlroy was heading down the first, starting his second round on six under par.
He will have seen those that had gone out early carding low scores in drizzly conditions that helped soften up the greens.
Woods called the morning more akin to winter, the afternoon summer. Par for the Old Course.
And as the afternoon turned into evening, McIlroy was at his battling best as the sun shone at its brightest. The momentum of birdies on the fifth and seventh holes were halted by a bogey on the eighth. But a run of three birdies from the 10th lifted him to 10 under, only to give one back on the 15th.
But a superb 20-footer on the 17th saw him sign for a four-under 68. He was joined on 10 under by Hovland, who had a chip-in eagle two on the 15th in a 66.
“I’m picking holes in everything and walking off thinking I could have been a couple better, but I’m in a great position going into the weekend,” said McIlroy.
“It is nice to be in the mix.”
Former world number one Johnson, who has been suspended by the PGA Tour for joining the LIV Golf Series, shot a 67 in the morning gloom to set the initial pace on nine under.
The two-time major winner is one ahead of Scheffler and Hatton after they shot bogey-free rounds of 68 and 66 respectively.
Australia’s Adam Scott, who threw away victory a decade ago at the 2012 Open, carded the lowest round of the morning starters with a bogey-free 65 lifting him into a group on seven under.
However, when the sun came out mid-afternoon and the wind died away, Smith took advantage with five birdies in his opening eight holes. The world number six, who won the PGA Tour’s flagship Players Championship at Sawgrass in March, then holed a 64-foot eagle putt on the par-five 14th to move further clear.
“I feel like I’ve been in this spot a lot over the past couple of years, and things just haven’t quite gone my way yet,” said Smith, who is yet to win a major but has had four top-10 finishes in the past five Masters.
“I’ve just got to be really patient over the weekend. The golf course is going to get a lot harder and a lot faster. So just be patient and make good putts.”
Young, who led overnight on eight under, was among those out in the later wave, and he birdied the last to complete a three-under 69 and finish on 11 under.
England’s Barclay Brown is the leading amateur after following his opening 68 with a 70 for a six-under todal, three ahead of Italy’s Filippo Celli.
The cut mark came at level par, meaning defending champion Collin Morikawa, who ended on one over after a 73 is among those heading home early.