Tiger Woods of the U.S.walks with his girlfriend skier Lindsey Vonn during a practice round ahead of the British Open golf championship at Muirfield on Monday. (BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS)

Tiger Woods said Tuesday that his ailing left elbow has healed, and that the injury that caused him to wince at the U.S. Open and kept him out of the AT&T National at Congressional Country Club late last month should not affect him as he pursues a fourth British Open championship beginning Thursday at Muirfield.

“The elbow feels good,” Woods said. “It’s one of the good things of taking the time off to let it heal and get the treatment and therapy on it. The main reason was that coming over here, the ground is going to be hard, obviously. And I’m going to need that elbow to be good.”

Woods is set to begin his 17th Open at 9:34 a.m. EDT Thursday with Graeme McDowell, winner of the 2010 U.S. Open, and Louis Oosthuizen, who won the British Open that same summer. Thus, his playing partners are part of a growing group: golfers who have won majors since Woods’s last victory in such a championship, at the 2008 U.S. Open. Woods has played in 16 of the 20 majors since then, finishing in the top four six times. He has, though, struggled on the weekend when he has found himself in contention.

“I think it’s just a shot here and there,” he said. “It’s making a key up-and-down here or getting a good bounce here, capitalizing on an opportunity here and there. . . . It’s not much. It could happen on the first day. It could happen on the last day. But it’s turning the tide and getting the momentum at the right time.”

Woods has won four times this season, more than anyone in the world, and has ascended back to the No. 1 ranking. And he returns to Muirfield 11 years after his last trip here. Then, in 2002, he arrived having won the first two majors of the year. But he caught the bad side of what has become a legendary squall that all but swallowed half the field during Saturday’s third round. Wind came in sideways, bringing a chill off the ocean that made temperatures feel as if they were in the 30s. Woods’s result was an 81, his worst score as a professional.

“That was the worst I’ve ever played in,” Woods said. “I think because of the fact that we weren’t prepared for it, that no one was prepared for it. . . . It was just a cold, cold day. We played through probably maybe 13, 14 holes of it. And then it started easing up towards the end, and by then the damage had already been done to my round.”

Woods came back the next day with a 65.

The forecast here is unlike anything the players saw that week, when Ernie Els won: windy, sure, but sunny with temperatures in the 70s. With conditions already hard and fast, Woods and other long hitters likely won’t use their drivers more than a couple of times per round. During his practice round Monday, Woods took 3-iron off the tee of the 575-yard par-5 17th, which was playing downwind, and hit his 3-iron second shot over the green.

Woods played nine holes each of the past three days. He said, “I’ve been playing a lot at home, but it’s Florida. It rains every day. It’s soft.” He said he expects this tournament to play similarly to the 2006 British Open at Royal Liverpool, where he won the last of his three claret jugs.

If so, he might contend. He has just one top-10 finish in the British since that last victory. But whether he’s in the mix or not, he said his elbow won’t be an issue.

“I needed to have this thing set and healed,” Woods said, “and everything is good to go.”

Spieth enjoying ‘miraculous’ run

Less than three weeks ago, Jordan Spieth holed out from a fairway bunker on the first hole at Congressional Country Club to tie for the lead in the final round of the AT&T National, heady territory for a 19-year-old. But Spieth had more drama to come, culminating Sunday in winning a five-hole playoff in the John Deere Classic — earning a whirlwind trip to Muirfield.

“It really was miraculous,” Spieth said.

He is the first teenager to win on the PGA Tour since 1931, and now will appear in his second major and first British Open. …

In April, Adam Scott won his first major, the Masters, at age 32. Last month, Justin Rose won his first major, the U.S. Open, at age 32. So the popular pick this week: 32-year-old Brandt Snedeker, who led at the midway point of last year’s Open. “The hard part is making sure it keeps going,” Snedeker said.

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Tiger Woods joined by Lindsey Vonn during Monday’s practice round at Muirfield