HOYLAKE, England – Tiger Woods said Tuesday morning, after his third practice round at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, that his brief appearance in the Quicken Loans National last month has given him confidence that he can contend when the British Open begins here Thursday morning.
Woods shot rounds of 74 and 75 and missed the cut by four shots at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, his only competition since undergoing back surgery March 31. Result aside, the experience leaves him with little doubt his body is ready to compete in his first major championship of the year.
“Playing at Congressional was a big boost to me,” Woods said. “The fact that I was able to go at it that hard and hit it like that with no pain. It wasn’t like that the previous times I had played.
“Playing at both the Honda and Doral, I did not feel well. But to come back and be able to hit the ball as hard as I was able to hit it, [and] I’ve gotten stronger since then. I’ve gotten more explosive. I’ve gotten faster since then. That’s going to be the case. I’m only going to get stronger and faster, which is great.”
With that, Woods dismissed the popular notion that he can’t contend at Royal Liverpool, where he won the most recent of his three claret jugs in 2006. Asked for an acceptable finish, he said, predictably, “First.”
Woods, 38, comes here without a major title since the 2008 U.S. Open. He likened this situation to that tournament at Torrey Pines, where post-Masters knee surgery left him little time to prepare.
“I didn’t play more than nine holes, and the Sunday before the U.S. Open I didn’t break 50 for nine holes, and still was able to win it in a playoff with a [torn] ACL and a broken leg,” Woods said. “I’ve proven I can do it. It’s just a matter of putting my game [together] and giving myself the best chances this week.”
Woods will begin his first round at 4:04 a.m. EDT alongside Henrik Stenson of Sweden and Angel Cabrera of Argentina. He said he had no issues with his back during his appearance at Congressional – where he actually hit the ball fairly well but showed a severely rusty short game – and therefore has no apprehension in taking on any shot he might face at Royal Liverpool.
“That’s one of the reasons why playing Congressional was such a big moment for me in that regard because I didn’t have any setbacks,” Woods said. “I could go at it that hard. I could play out of the rough. I could hit shots. I could go out as hard as I wanted to, and I didn’t feel any of the pain going down my leg like I did before, and I was able to recover each and every day. I think that’s the key: I was able to recover.”
Woods has missed the cut only once in the British Open: in 2009 at Turnberry. Even as he has failed to win, he has played well in this event recently, tying for third in 2012 at Royal Lytham and tying for sixth last year at Muirfield.
And it’s clear that, even in this six-year drought, major championships are Woods’s only concern. He has 14, four shy of Jack Nicklaus’s record. Asked whether he would continue to compete deep into his 40s or early 50s if he was still pursuing Nicklaus, he said, “Hopefully I have it done by then.”