Tiger Woods is swinging better and is comfortable on Royal Lytham's greens, but how well he sorts out the wind at the 141st British Open could determine if he breaks a four-year major win drought.
World No. 4 Woods, a 14-time major champion who is chasing the all-time record 18 major titles won by Jack Nicklaus, has won three events this year and a US PGA-best $4.2 million. He likes what he has seen of Royal Lytham so far.
But Woods arrives without the consistency or the dominating aura he once enjoyed, having missed his second cut of the year, and only the ninth of his career, at the Greenbrier Classic two weeks ago.
Woods has not won a major title since the 2008 US Open and it was only four months ago that he snapped a 17-month win drought.
“I think Tiger would admit that his form hasn’t been as good,” said World No. 1 Luke Donald. “He hasn’t been as dominant in the majors as he was.”
The 36-year-old American has also worked on swing changes with coach Sean Foley to ease the pressure on his left knee, which has undergone surgery four times, and is finally seeing the efforts reach fruition.
“I like the things that Sean and I are working on and they are starting to solidify,” Woods said. “I’m just trying to get better each and every day.”
Woods has won three British Open titles, in 2000 and 2005 at St. Andrews and in 2006 at Hoylake, where he never used a driver. This week’s tricky layout offers 206 bunkers and breezes can blow away title hopes for any contender.
“Here you have so many different options and a five-degree wind change changes an entire golf course and your entire game plan,” Woods said.
“Everything is magnified. On the ground if you hit a draw versus a fade, it doesn't just go five yards further, it can go possibly 30, 40, 50 yards further. This is all something you’re trying to figure out.”
Woods will be pulling out his driver and 3-wood at times this week but trajectory and club selection will be critical as mistakes bring dense rough and pot bunkers into play with score-soaring results.
“Shotmaking creativity is paramount when you play a links golf course,” Woods said.
The past 15 majors have been won by 15 different players, a fact other top players say shows the difficulty of what Woods has done.