Rude: Tiger cautiously prepares; will it be enough?
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
GULLANE, Scotland – And now a word about what is currently the most compelling joint in golf. No, not Muirfield, site of the Open Championship.
Rather, Tiger Woods’ left elbow.
Though anatomical science says otherwise, there are two sides to the elbow in Woods’ case. On one hand, Woods said Tuesday at the Open that his elbow feels good after about a month of treatment and rest.
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“Everything’s good to go,” he said.
On the flip side, Woods is being cautious and seems to be protecting the hinge joint on a Muirfield course that has hard ground and high rough. Neither condition, of course, is good for a strain that has kept Woods out of competition since June 16, the final day of the U.S. Open.
It follows then that since arriving Sunday morning, he has been playing nine holes a day on this firm Scottish turf. Having not won a major championship since taking his 14th in June 2008, Woods simply is being careful so as not to aggravate the elbow pre-tournament.
His plan here, he says, is this: “Not to push it on the amount of holes, especially, as I said, on this hard ground.”
Woods has been practicing at home in south Florida. But conditions are far different there. Because of rain almost daily, the ground is soft and the risk of recurring injury far less.
“I just wanted to make sure that I’m rested and feel fit and ready to go (for the Open),” Woods said.
The question then is whether nine daily holes constitute proper preparation, given changing winds and unfamiliar greens. Is he favoring elbow health at the expense of gaining knowledge? For his part, Woods says no.
“I’ve done a lot of homework on the greens each day,” the World No. 1 said. “I’ve taken my time and really got a good feel for them. So that’s been good. I just would like to maybe get another wind in, a little different direction, because we’ve had it the same the last three days.”
Woods’ major preparation was called into question recently by his former coach, Hank Haney. He said Woods doesn’t prepare as hard as he could, choosing to play a course “in a rushed way” a couple of times before tournament week and then usually playing nine on days the week of the event.
One can argue there’s merit to that observation. For starters, remarkably, Woods’ drought has surpassed five years, once an unthinkable gap. Too many three-putts have sabotaged his chances in a few majors over the years. The man who used to own major weekends is now 21 over for his last six, covering a dozen rounds.
His common refrain lately has been an expressed inability to calibrate green speeds. He said that after tying for fourth at the Masters. He said it again after putting and chipping poorly at the Memorial Tournament (T-65) and U.S. Open (T-32). All that makes one wonder, to Haney’s point, whether Woods has spent enough time learning greens and lag putting from different angles.
Still, Woods is the betting favorite here, at 13-2 odds (read more here). That figures for several reasons: He is top ranked, he’s four shy of Jack Nicklaus’ record total of major victories and he has won four of his eight stroke-play events on the 2013 PGA Tour.
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“I feel good about my game,” he said.
This week, you can expect him to play Muirfield in the same manner he is dealing with the elbow: Conservatively. Or, if you will, in the way in which he won the 2006 Open on the hard, fast ground of Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England. Woods hit but one driver that week on golden turf that resembled a yellow brick road.
Woods basically bludgeoned the field that week with a cleek. Now he seems poised to attempt a repeat, for he has hit but a couple of drivers in 27 holes of practice to date. He says his 4-iron is traveling 280 yards on some downwind holes, and his 3-iron is eclipsing 300. On Monday, he hit two 3-iron shots on the 575-yard 17th and found himself over the green. He maintains some downwind 3-wood shots roll about 90 yards and “sometimes a little more.”
So Woods won’t have to go out of his way to play away from his driver, as he has done some in recent years. Muirfield’s quick conditions demand that he does.
Nowadays that seems to suit the man who perhaps is the game’s best long-iron player. He won the Players primarily teeing off with fairway metals. And, primarily using irons off the tee, he contended at both summer Opens last year until he started finding rough too far back.
Woods ushered in the era of Bomber Ball when he turned pro in 1996. Thus, lengthy courses that suited his monster drives used to favor him. But, interestingly, now his best chances seem to be on courses that don’t require driver.
Once an equalizer, now an ally.
Should he win here, he merely would be following suit. Winners of 13 of the 15 Opens at Muirfield are in the World Golf Hall of Fame, and the others are Hall worthy Ted Ray and three-time Ryder Cupper Alf Perry.
Such history hardly surprises Woods. Muirfield’s holes run clockwise on the outside and then counterclockwise on the inside. That layout makes for different crosswinds and interesting angles.
“You have to hit the ball well and shape it both ways,” Woods said.
You also have to do something else: Go 72 holes with an elbow intact.