HOYLAKE, England—Eight years ago, Tiger Woods displayed a tour de force linkage between solid game plan and vintage shot execution in scoring an 18-under-par total in winning by two shots his third Open Championship at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club. After losing his Dad, Earl, two months earlier and coming off a missed cut at the preceding major—the US Open at Winged Foot—Woods avoided the plethora of bunkers that dot the landscape of England’s second oldest course and successfully defended his Open title from a year earlier at the Old Course at St. Andrews.
Tiger’s win at Royal Liverpool started a streak in which he would win three of the next seven majors—with three second place finishes as well. The worst finish during that time was a tie for 12th at The Open Championship in ’07.
Since returning to competition in early July after having back surgery this past March, the jury on Woods is still out. Tiger’s lone start was at Congressional during the Quicken Loans National event and he showed plenty of rust scoring 74-75 and missing the cut. Part of the reason for his participation was because his foundation is tied to the event. Woods had proclaimed he had been practicing various short game shots at his home in Florida but his form at Congressional suggested more work in competitive circumstances is needed.
Can he return to the form he showed last year when winning five PGA Tour titles? Can he demonstrate the resolve he routinely showed when winning major titles seemed so predictable. It has been six years and counting since Woods won his last major event—winning the US Open at Torrey Pines in dramatic fashion over Rocco Mediate.
Even though there’s been a considerable drought, when Woods was asked following a practice round what would be an acceptable finish this week at Royal Liverpool, his answer was curt and to the point—”First, that’s always the case.”
Links golf is not by any means an extension of golf found in the States. If anything, being able to adjust to changing conditions and fitting shots as called upon requires total discipline and utter belief in one’s game. It’s not what club you hit—but how you hit the appropriate club with the correct ball flight for the circumstances one faces.
Woods has mentioned how he has returned to the top of the competitive golf charts following various ailments of one type or the other but it’s hard to deny that there’s plenty of mileage on his tires. In the ’06 Open, Woods used two solid opening rounds of 67-65 to grab the halfway lead and never looked back. Through the four rounds of the ’06 Open, Woods hit an astonishing 86% of the fairways.
The ’14 version of Tiger has been simply a shell of his former self. Woods has been battling consistently poor efforts with his driver and his typical short game prowess was completely missing with his return to competitive golf at Congressional a few weeks ago.
Those who are fans of Woods have always said it is only a matter of time before he returns to the winner’s circle—with more major victories to come. The same sentiments were mentioned after Arnold Palmer won his fourth Masters with a superlative six-stroke winning margin at age 34. As the years went by, fans of The King were optimistic that the next major would be forthcoming. It never happened. The late Seve Ballesteros won his third Open Championship in 1988 with a blistering 65 final round. At age 31, and ranked as the world’s number one player, all seemed in place for many more majors to be won by the charismatic Spaniard. But like Palmer no more majors would be forthcoming for Steve.
Woods is now 38—the person he was in ’06 has changed with time and events. A major personal scandal and resulting divorce impacted his performance on the course. Now raising two young children, along with his former wife Elin Nordegren, Tiger is balancing the rigors of various time pressures and commitments. The demands are also impacted by the growing numbers of talented younger competitors who do not quake in his presence as earlier rivals had done again and again.
The ’06 Open win was a clear demonstration on how Tiger excelled in the most important dimension in golf—the mind game. Using his driver only once, Woods negotiated the firm and fast conditions of Royal Liverpool that week to a maestro level. The task this week is getting off to good start. Woods will resume his major championship play Thursday at 9:04 AM with Angel Cabrera and Henrik Stenson.
M. James Ward, a member of Golf Writer’s Association of America (GWAA) and past member of Met Golf Writer’s Association (MGWA), has reported on golf’s grandest events since 1980 in a variety of forums.