Golf

Woods ready for speedy Muirfield

Image: Tiger Woods (Scott Heppell / AP Images)
Tiger Woods plays a shot during a practice round at Muirfield.
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Robert Lusetich

After more than 20 years of covering everything from election campaigns to the Olympic Games, Robert Lusetich turned his focus to writing about his first love: golf. He is author of Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger's Most Tumultuous Season. Follow him on Twitter.

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MUIRFIELD, SCOTLAND

Not that anyone is counting, but we’ve entered a sixth year since Tiger Woods last won a major.

Barack Obama was only a presidential hopeful back then, and Lindsay Lohan had been to jail just the one time.

Though it’s true Woods hasn’t exactly fossilized since that US Open victory at Torrey Pines — he has four PGA Tour wins this season, a good career for most pros — his inability to lift one of golf’s four glittering prizes hasn’t gone unnoticed.

As always with him, he’s measured against the champion he used to be; the indefatigable lion who accumulated 14 majors victories before his 33rd birthday.

Now he’s trying hard to win one, just like everyone else. And he talks about rotten luck like the rest of them, too.

“I think it’s just a shot here and there,” Woods said on a lovely sunny Tuesday morning at Muirfield. “It’s making a key up-and-down here or getting a good bounce there, capitalizing on an opportunity.

“This year at Augusta was one of those examples. I played really well and on a good shot ended up having a bad break (ricocheting off the flagstick into the water in the second round). So it’s a shot here and 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.”

Woods, now 37, has been swimming against the tide in the 16 majors he’s contested since that famous win at Torrey Pines. He’s finished in the top six eight times since ’08 and should’ve won at least one of them, but the truth is that he has been unable to close.

“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,” he said. “I just need to keep putting myself there and eventually I’ll get some.”

That’s one way of looking at it.

So, will this be his week? Certainly, it helps that the weather will be cooperative at Muirfield.

The most exacting test in the Open rota is the course playing hard and fast as a result of a balmy British summer, but this is how Woods likes his Opens. He’s lifted the claret jug three times, all on courses that played fast and bouncy.

This year will be a stark contrast from the last time he played here, in 2002, when he entered dreaming of a (calendar) Grand Slam, having won the Masters and US Open. Instead, he caught the worst of a horrible Saturday storm and shot 81, which remains his highest score at a major.

“The worst (weather) I’ve ever played in,” he recalled. “I think because of the fact that we weren’t prepared for it. There was a slight chance of maybe a shower. … Obviously, the forecast was very wrong on that.”

Though it’s not likely he’ll have to worry about storms this week, Muirfield will present its own challenges. For 51 weeks of the year, golf to Woods is a two-dimensional sport; this week, there’s a third dimension to factor in as the ball is played along the ground.

“The golf course has a little bit of speed to it,” Woods said after his third day of practice. “It’s pretty quick, and I’m sure it will get really quick by the weekend.”

As he did in winning at Hoylake in 2006, Woods isn’t likely to be using the driver much.

“Some of the holes, 4 iron was going 280, 3 iron is going a little over 300 yards,” he said.

Despite finishing in a tie for 25th here in ’02, Woods likes the course, which has produced a worthy list of champions, from Jack Nicklaus to Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Gary Player, Nick Faldo and, the last time, Ernie Els, who happens to be defending the claret jug this year.

“You have to hit the ball well here. You have to be able to shape your shots,” Woods said. “It’s not like you are at St. Andrews, out and back, or Troon; you’re playing almost in a kind of circle, in a sense, because you’ve got so many different angles and so many different winds, you have to be able to maneuver the ball both ways.”

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Woods insists that he’s ready to play, physically, after being bothered by a sore left elbow at the US Open, where he logged his worst finish in that event as a professional, tied for 32nd.

“Feels good,” he insisted.

On doctors’ orders, he hasn’t played since Merion.

“The main reason was that coming over here the ground is going to be hard, obviously, and I’m going to need that elbow to be good,” he said.

Perhaps because of what his former coach, Hank Haney, told FOXSports.com about his lack of preparation before majors, Woods seemed determined to spell out the reason he was only playing nine holes of practice each day.

“I just wanted to make sure that I’m rested and feel fit and ready to go for the championship,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of homework on the greens each day. And I’ve taken my time and really got a good feel for them, so that’s been good.”

And how does he feel?

“I feel very good about my game,” he said.

What else would he say?

Tagged: Tiger Woods, Ernie Els

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