Wednesday 20 November 2019

Tiger: Majors drought doesn't faze me

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods

Phil Casey

The statistics point to an increasingly injury-prone player no longer in his awesome, dominating prime.

From the start of his professional career, Tiger Woods played in 46 consecutive major championships and won 14 of them. Since the last of those victories in the 2008 US Open there have been 20 more. Woods has played in 16 and won none.

Not surprisingly, the world number one sees it differently as he seeks to get closer to Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major victories by claiming a fourth Open title at Muirfield.

"Even though I haven't won a major championship in five years, I've been there in a bunch of them where I've had chances," the 37-year-old said. "I just need to keep putting myself there and eventually I'll get some.

"I think it's just a shot here and there. It's making a key up and down or getting a good bounce here and there, capitalising on an opportunity here and there.

"For instance, this year at Augusta was one of those examples. I really played well and a good shot ended up having a bad break (his third shot to the 15th in the second round hitting the flag and bouncing back into the water).

"So it's a shot here and a shot there. It's not much. It could happen on the first day, it could happen on the last day. But it's turning that tide and getting the momentum at the right time or capitalising on your opportunity. That's what you have to do to win major championships."

Since beating Rocco Mediate in a play-off at Torrey Pines, Woods has suffered from numerous injuries, most famously revealing he had won the event despite a stress fracture of the leg and torn knee ligaments.

That meant he missed the Open and US PGA Championship later that year, while further knee and Achilles problems meant he missed the US Open and Open in 2011.

This year has brought four wins on the PGA Tour but in the last of them, the Players Championship in May, he suffered an elbow injury which he did not reveal at the time but which was subsequently exacerbated by playing out of the thick rough at Merion in the US Open.

"It didn't feel good, especially in the rough," added Woods, who finished 13 over par, 12 behind champion Justin Rose and has not played competitively since.

"You go from (clubhead speed of) 100-some-odd miles an hour to virtually zero. I really couldn't get through it and it hurt.

"(But) the elbow feels good. It's one of the good things of taking the time off to let it heal and get the treatment and therapy on it. The main reason was that coming over here the ground is going to be hard and I'm going to need that elbow to be good. And reports were that the rough was going to be high, and it was going to be lush. I needed to have this thing set and healed and everything is good to go."

Woods has first-hand experience of how tough the rough at Muirfield can be, his hopes of winning the third leg of the Grand Slam in 2002 blown away by a third round of 81 amid terrible conditions.

"That was the worst weather I've ever played in, I think because of the fact that we weren't prepared for it," Woods recalled of the howling wind and torrential rain which sent scores soaring.

"There was a slight chance of a shower. Obviously the forecast was very wrong on that. None of us were prepared clothing-wise. A lot of guys just had golf shirts and a rain jacket, and that was it. The wind-chill was in the 30s. The umbrella became useless because the wind was blowing so hard.

"We played through probably maybe 13, 14 holes of it and then it started easing up towards the end. By then the damage had already been done. I just happened to catch the weather at the worst time and I didn't play well at the same time. It was a double whammy and I believe that was the worst score I've shot as a professional."

In stark contrast, Woods' last Open title came at Hoylake in 2006, when glorious conditions saw Woods win with an 18-under-par total achieved by hitting an iron off most tees on a course playing hard and fast.

Similar conditions are expected to prevail this week, with Woods already hitting a four-iron 285 yards downwind in practice and only needing two three-irons to run through the green on the 575-yard par-five 17th.

"I'm really looking forward to Thursday," added Woods, who shrugged off being denied the opportunity for some trademark early practice on Monday due to the course being closed until 7am. "It's playing really fast out there.

"I've played three days now and I've only hit a couple of drivers. I only hit one driver at Hoylake and this course is playing similar to that.

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