LYTHAM, England – Tiger Woods comes to the British Open confident in his game and aware of the dangers on offer at Royal Lytham, where dense rough, 205 pot bunkers and rain will test the 14-time major champion.
Woods, chasing the all-time record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, has won three US PGA events this season, capturing the National on July 1 after taking the Memorial in June and the Arnold Palmer Invitational last March.
While he disappointed in the majors after his triumphs, sharing 40th at the Masters and 21st at the US Open, he was a 36-hole co-leader last month at the US Open and is playing as well as he has since before his infamous sex scandal.
“Feel good about my game,” Woods said. “It feels good to step up and hit the drive I know I can hit when I need it.”
This week's Open is the third for Woods at Royal Lytham, where he shared 25th in 2001 behind winner David Duval and shared 22nd in 1996 as an amateur when he matched England's Iain Pyman with the low-amateur record total of 281, aided by a second-round 66.
“That gave me so much confidence,” Woods said. “It gave me confidence that I could do it at a high level. And the fact that I shot that low round, I made seven birdies in a 12-hole stretch, I thought for an amateur in a major championship that was a big step.”
Woods and caddie Joe LaCava toured the course early Sunday morning in sunny conditions and were shocked at how record rainfall in the area had created severely difficult rough.
“I've never seen the rough this high or thick and dense,” Woods said. “It's just that you can't get out of it... in some places it's almost unplayable.”
Woods, 36, has not won a major title since the 2008 US Open. He has not finished in the top 10 at the British Open since winning at Hoylake in 2006, his third British Open crown after 2000 and 2005
triumphs at St. Andrews.
And while he has been inconsistent this season, missing the cut twice including earlier this month at the Greenbrier Classic, he remains a favourite even among rivals like Bubba Watson, the reigning Masters champion who played alongside Woods for the first two rounds at the US Open.
“He's going to be strong any time he steps up, any time he tees it up,” Watson said. “He's the greatest player that has ever played.
“He has won three times this year. So I think he's doing pretty good. I've only won once. It just happened to be a major, so everybody thinks that's a big deal. I would rather win three times than one time.”
But no, Watson would not trade his one win this year for the three that have pushed Woods to the top of the US PGA money list at $4.22 million.
“He has got 14 majors, so I'm going to keep my little one that I have,” said Watson. “He's got 14 to spare, so I don't want to get rid of the one yet.”
Royal Lytham, a relatively short 7,086-yard layout playing to par 70, opens with a par-3 hole and closes with six par-4 holes, most of them into the wind or a crosswind that can play havoc with even the best of shotmakers.
“I like the layout. It's fair,” Woods said. “They don't have to trick it up. They don't have to do anything with it. If it's calm, we can shoot some good scores. If it's wet, lush, you've got to be more aggressive.
“Each British Open has its own little quirks. You can have so many different weather conditions. You just don't know. That's one of the unique things about the British Open and why it's my favourite major championship.” – Sapa-AFP