Tiger Woods has played just 10 rounds of tournament golf since his final putt fell at the Masters back in April. It’s not the ideal lead in to one of the toughest and most demanding tests of the year at the 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush. But for Woods, what is ideal is not always possible.
When we talk about Woods from now until he no longer plays golf, his back and his health will always be part of the conversation. How could they not be? Woods has had more back surgeries (4) than Open Championships won (3), and he has cited throughout the year that he just can’t do some of the things he used to do, like play a ton of golf. He reiterated that on Tuesday at Portrush.
Woods famously said after the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black — where he missed the cut — that his body doesn’t always do what his mind wants it to. That’s the unfortunate reality of an aging golfer whose birth certificate says 43 but body says something far north of that.
“I just wasn’t moving the way I needed to,” said Woods after a missed cut at his first major as a 15-time major champion. “That’s the way it goes. There’s going to be days and weeks where it’s just not going to work, and today was one of those days.”
The subtext there, though, was that Woods only played nine holes leading into that PGA. He’d already played 36 by Monday of this week, but will that be enough for someone who has played so little over the past few months?
“It’s not quite as sharp as I’d like to have it right now,” Woods said of his game on Tuesday at Portrush. “My touch around the greens is right where I need to have it. But I still need to shape the golf ball a little bit better than I am right now, especially with the weather coming in and the winds are going to be changing. I have to be able to cut the ball, draw the ball, hit it at different heights and move it all around.”
The Masters champion said cresting that mountain may have stolen more of his reserves than he thought it would. If there’s blame to be had, a green jacket is certainly a nice place to be able to put it.
“Well, getting myself into position to win the Masters … it took a lot out of me,” said Woods. “That golf course puts so much stress on the system. It was a very emotional week and one that I keep reliving. It’s hard to believe that I pulled it off and I ended up winning the tournament.”
Woods is better suited to win an Open than maybe any other major championship. You can look no further than Carnoustie last year where he played conservatively off the tee, bided his time and mentally picked off nearly everyone on that leaderboard. That was a Tiger coming in off a T4 at the Quicken Loans National though. This is a Tiger coming in off a vacation to Thailand with his family.
“Today was a good range session,” Woods added in his presser. “I need another one tomorrow – and hopefully that will be enough to be ready.”
He doesn’t sound encouraged, but again Woods had practiced far more than he did prior to the PGA Championship, and this is probably the event where it matters the least. Of Tiger’s six top 10s at majors since 2012, three have come at the Open Championship. He doesn’t sound poised to make it four this week at Portrush, but I think we’ve all learned that you doubt Tiger’s ability at your own peril.
Big Cat, by the way, has only won the Masters and the Open in the same year one time. That happened in 2005 when he finished in the top four of all four majors.