Tiger must drive well to win his 4th British Open

The downside of being Tiger Woods — if such a thing exists — is that when the stars and moon are your playground, earthly achievements can pale by comparison.

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It’s easily forgotten, as the curtain is about to lift on the season’s third major on Scotland’s west coast, that although Woods failed to win at either Augusta or Bethpage Black, he remains the only player to have three victories on the PGA Tour this year.

Given the back story of a risky major knee reconstruction, Woods enters the Britsh Open — a championship he’s won three times — with the view that his comeback has, so far, been a success.

Not just a success, but a “tremendous success,” as he characterized it Tuesday at Turnberry, venue of the 138th Open Championship.

“I remember looking at the year and just trying to get back to playing (thinking), ‘Hopefully I can play and hopefully I can play at a high level,’ ” he said.

“And to sit here and say I was going to have thee wins halfway through the year, if anyone would have looked at my situation, they would have said you probably might be reaching a little bit.

“Granted I haven’t won a major, but I’ve come close. I’ve put myself in position to win the first few majors, I just haven’t done it. But to have three wins, realistically, looking at my situation at the beginning of the year … I wouldn’t have thought that.”

Not that three PGA Tour wins are enough. Not for a man who’s determined, at 33, to be better than ever.

To that end, he’s at a course which has always been very good at identifying the cream of the crop.

It is no coincidence that Turnberry’s three British Open champions were all, at the time of their success here, the finest golfer in the world.

Tom Watson won not just the Claret Jug but a mano-a-mano cage fight against Jack Nicklaus — the so-called Duel in the Sun — in 1977. Greg Norman in full flight, as magnificent a creature as has ever graced the links, won by five strokes here in 1986. In 1994, it was the turn of an unstoppable Nick Price, who’d go on the following month to win his second PGA Championship.

“If you look at it that way, I think you look at the guys who were some of the best ball strikers of all time, or certainly of their eras,” said Woods of Turnberry’s champions.

“At this golf course you can understand why. You really do have to hit your ball well here.

“You just can’t fake it around this golf course, you just have to hit good golf shots.”

There’s something else required at Turnberry: finding the fairway from the tee. The course’s primary defense — if the wind is down — is long and nasty rough.

“If you’re just a little wild off the tee, it will be tough sailing,” said Stuart Appleby.

“If you miss just 15 to 20 yards off the fairway, you’re going to be struggling to find it, much less play it.”

And this strikes at the heart of the dichotomy that is Tiger Woods: he is, at once, the best player in the world and a golfer whose Achilles’ heel is inaccuracy off the tee.

Of the 11 British Opens he’s contested as a professional, Woods has won on the two courses — St Andrews (twice) and Hoylake — where there was no real rough.

At Carnoustie, Troon, St George’s, Birkdale, Lytham and, to an extent, even Muirfield, he’s been hamstrung by crookedness off the tee.

But the Woods who emerged after a three-week layoff to win the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village a month ago isn’t the same wild driver who blew his chance at The Players.

Consider that at the 2006 British Open at Royal Liverpool, Woods gave one of his true virtuoso performances; but it was born of necessity more than any higher reasoning.

Woods won that major by using long irons off the tee.

And he would win the following month’s PGA Championship at Chicago’s Medinah teeing off primarily with a five wood.

But the rationale behind both those victories was that Woods could just not rely on his driver.

In his past three events — the Memorial, U.S. Open and AT&T National — however, Woods’ driving average is 73.6 percent.

Not quite Fred Funk, but very impressive nonetheless.

And if he’s playing his second shots from the middle of the fairway, the Claret Jug’s engraver can begin his work.