Tiger Woods not only wants to compete, he wants to win British Open
Tiger Woods has had a long and arduous comeback from back surgery, spending months rehabbing following his procedure on March 31 before making his first competitive appearance a few weeks ago at the Quicken Loans National, an event he said he never would have competed in if it was not for his affiliation with tournament.
While he said at the time he was pain-free for the first time in years, Woods was understandably rusty and ultimately missed the cut for only the tenth time in his magnificent career.
Everything in Tiger’s planning of his comeback to competitive golf seems to have had the Open Championship as its target.
The British Open kicks off on Thursday at Royal Liverpool, the same course Woods won the Claret Jug in 2006, only two months after his beloved father’s death.
Admitting that his life is “much different than it was then” — a drastic understatement, to put it mildly — Woods appears almost defiant when discussing how he feels that he can not only compete this week, he can win.
“I’m not favoring anything,” Woods said on Saturday following a practice round at Liverpool. “The little baby steps worked. We were very diligent about what I was doing. Going into it we pushed it pretty hard to get my abs and glutes strong so when I did come back I was able to rebound fast. I can do whatever I want. I’m at that point now. We didn’t think we’d get to that point until this tournament or the week after.”
Woods continued to tow the company line on Tuesday, saying his back will not be an issue this week, maintaining that the slow and methodical pace of his rehab is the main reason why he’s ready and raring to go.
“Once I started getting stronger and more stable, I could work on my explosiveness and start getting my speed back,” Woods said during his pre-tourney presser. “Each and every week I’ve gotten stronger and faster. Probably not quite at the level that I think I can be at as far as my explosion through the golf ball, but I’m pretty, pretty darn close.”
Woods also recognizes that since he won at Royal Liverpool in 2006, the field that will compete this week is even more talented, more deep and more formidable, filled with so many more talented golfers than just a short eight years ago.
“I think (winning) gets harder every year, just because there are more guys with a chance to win,” Woods said. “It’s just getting deeper. It’s getting harder to win. The margin is so much smaller. It’s only going to continue to be the case. Guys are going to get longer, they’re going to get faster.
“Guys who are coming out here are bigger, stronger, faster and more athletic. When I first came out here in ’97, I averaged somewhere just under 300 yards (per drive). I walked around with Gary Woodland on Sunday and he said, ‘Yeah, I finally found a driver and a ball I can hit 320 again in the air.’
“So the game has changed a lot since then.”
Not only has the game changed, so has Tiger.
“As I person I’ve gone through a lot, the loss of a parent and having two kids. Life is very different than it was then,” Woods said. “I’ve got a completely different golf swing than I did in ’06. A lot of aspects of my game and life have changed since ’06.
” … It’s great to be back here. We’ll see what happens.”
But how does everything — his life changes, swing changes, age, experience, injuries, surgeries, the amount of time since we won a major, all of it — come together as Woods prepares to make another stab at winning his 15th major, his first since taking the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. What are his thoughts heading into Thursday? What is his state of mind? How well does he think he can perform with only two rounds of golf under his belt since March? What will be an acceptable finishing spot come Sunday?
“First,” Woods said.
Yep, that sounds like the Tiger of old. It remains to be seen whether his adamant confidence in his game translates to his play.