The 46-year-old was moved by the reception he received on the 18th fairway of the Old Course - a venue which has seen him lift two of his three Claret Jugs.
Woods and the thousands of fans who lined the fairway already knew he would miss the cut, lying nine over par. Nevertheless, everyone still wanted to catch a glimpse of the golfing great - perhaps for the last time at St Andrews.
"It's very emotional for me. I've been coming here since 1995 and I don't know when the next one comes around if I will be physically able to play by then," said the American, who after numerous back and knee problems almost had to have his right leg amputated after a car crash last year.
With St Andrews being the only Open course to enjoy a five-year rotation, Woods has cast doubt on whether he will still be in action once the tournament returns to the infamous venue.
He added: "To me it felt like this might have been my last British Open here at St Andrews and the ovation and the warmth was an unbelievable feeling.
"I feel like I will be able to play future British Opens, but I don't know if I'll be able to play that long enough that when it comes back around here. Will I still be playing?"
Woods' playing partners - US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick and Max Homa - both stayed back to allow him to walk alone over the Swilcan Bridge, following in the footsteps of such greats as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson.
That acknowledgement was appreciated by a player who, in his prime, would barely give his peers the time of day as he dominated the game as world number one.
"I understand what Jack and Arnold had gone through in the past. I was kind of feeling that way there at the end," he said.
"Just the amount of understanding and respect from all the people that are involved in this event, that come out in support of the players, the nods I was getting as the players were going out.
"I looked over and Rory gave me a tip of the cap. JT (Justin Thomas in the group behind McIlroy) did the same. There's something to it that's just different.
"From a players' fraternity level it's neat to see that and feel that, and then as I got closer to the green the ovation got louder and I felt like it just came to a head right there as I was walking to my golf ball.
"I had a few tears. I'm not one who gets very teary-eyed very often about anything."
Woods was asked whether he had thought about a ceremonial send-off on the famous bridge which guards the first green and cuts across the 18th fairway as he walked to the tee.
"No. I was just thinking about a 5-wood or 3-wood," he said.