Tiger Woods is not 100 per cent healthy, he’s played just one event since having back surgery, and it is eight years since he won his last British Open at Royal Liverpool, the site of this week’s tournament. And given all of that, for one of the first times in his remarkable career, Woods is not the favourite heading into one of golf’s major championships.
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British odds makers have Woods, who has played a single event since March and had surgery on his back, at 25-1 to win the British Open. That puts him behind the likes of Justin Rose, who won the Scottish Open last week, current No. 1 golfer Adam Scott, and Irish star Rory McIlroy.
Woods won the 2006 British Open by playing conservatively and hitting irons off the tee. He finished the event at 18-under par.
American Phil Mickelson, who won last year’s British Open, says the tournament benefits from having Woods in the field, even if he’s not in top form.
“He’s also somewhat defending champion, given that he was the last person to win here at Royal Liverpool,” Mickelson says. “We all benefit from having him in the tournament. We are just glad he’s back. He’s back a lot earlier than I think a lot of us thought. That’s only been beneficial, and hopefully he’ll play well.”
For Woods’ part, he says his physical condition is improving.
“Once I started getting stronger, more stable, I could work on my explosiveness, and start getting my speed back,” he says. “Each and every week I’ve gotten stronger and faster.”
That doesn’t mean he’s all the way back, however, and golf is a notoriously hard sport to excel at if the player is not fully healthy. However, in the past Woods has played through injuries, including winning the 2008 U.S. Open on a fractured leg.
“[I’m] 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,” he says.
That doesn’t mean Woods should be expected to be in the mix at Hoylake, the name locals use for Royal Liverpool. Golf fields are deep and Rose, who won last year’s U.S. Open at Merion, is one of the favourites. McIlroy shot the course record during the first round at Royal Aberdeen, site of last week’s Scottish Open, and German Martin Kaymer is in the midst of an exceptional year as well, with a victory at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in June.
As well, when Woods last won at Hoylake, the course was baked brown from drought, allowing him to play an exacting game that utilized irons off the tee to avoid bunkers. It was a stunning display, but the course is a darker shade of green this year, and Woods’ strategy likely couldn’t be repeated this week.
He also acknowledges the fields have gotten stronger and at 38, and hobbled by injuries in recent years, there is a chance he’s past his prime.
“I think (winning) gets harder every year, just because there are more guys with a chance to win,” Woods says. “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.”
And Woods admits he’s not the same golfer or person he was when he won at Royal Liverpool. He’s been at the centre of a notorious sex scandal and faced numerous injuries. He’s also reworked his swing, yet again, under Canadian Sean Foley.
“I’ve got a completely different golf swing than I did in 2006,” he says. “A lot of aspects of my game and life have changed since ’06.”
Players to watch:
Graham DeLaet—The only Canadian in the field, though Brantford, Ont.’s David Hearn is the first alternate and likely to get into the tournament. DeLaet has made over $2-million this year and is 28th on the FedEx Cup standings, but hasn’t had a Top 10 finish since May and missed the cut at the U.S. Open. This is his second British Open appearance.
Justin Rose—The winner of the Scottish Open, Rose also won the Quicken Loans title at the start of July. He’s arguably the hottest golfer on the planet, but doesn’t have an exceptional recent record at the Open Championship, having missed the cut in his last two appearances. He did, however, break out at the tournament as an amateur, finishing T4 in the 1998 British Open.
Martin Kaymer—Having won the Players Championship and the U.S. Open, Kaymer is an easy favourite this week. He plays a controlled, smart game, and won at Pinehurst No. 2, a course that played firm and fast, very much like the links used for the British Open.