Tiger Woods gets closer to winning, and Memorial is one of his best shots

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Tiger Woods gets closer to winning, and Memorial is one of his best shots

PGA Tour

Tiger Woods gets closer to winning, and Memorial is one of his best shots

DUBLIN, Ohio – A day before Tiger Woods addressed the media Wednesday in Muirfield Village interview room, the Memorial Tournament’s host, Jack Nicklaus, sat in the same chair and talked about how Woods has to learn how to win again.

“He has got to get through the barrier of not having done it for awhile,” Nicklaus said of Woods, who has 79 PGA Tour victories, including 14 majors, but hasn’t won since 2013 because of back injuries. “When you haven’t won that always happens and that’s human nature. But when you got a guy that’s as good as he is and as competitive as he is, he’ll break through that barrier.

“I mean, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see Tiger win this week, not at all.”

If Woods is indeed learning how to win again, he seems to be taking a crash course. Just eight official events into his latest comeback, the 42-year-old Woods has cracked the top 12 four times, including a T-5 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and a T-2 at the Valspar Championship.

His feels are back. He’s been in contention on a couple of occasions. And he’s re-understanding what it takes to finish off a tournament.

“I remember the feelings when I was at Valspar. … It really felt comfortable,” Woods said. “The last few times that I’ve had a chance, I’ve been up there on the board, I’ve felt very comfortable. Hopefully, I can just shoot the low round when I need it.”

This week’s start at the Memorial Tournament, an event Woods has won five times (more than any other player), could be where Woods passes that final exam and earns No. 80.

And considering that in 15 trips to Muirfield Village, Woods has had eight total top-10s and earned $5,059,620, it arguably is his best chance to win this season, as well – unless, of course, Woods, currently ranked 83rd in the world rankings, qualifies for this summer’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, where he’s won eight times.

Nicklaus and Woods caught up earlier this week, the first time they’d done so since the Masters Champions Dinner in April.

“He was saying that my swing’s starting to look a little bit better, and I said, ‘Yeah, I’m really not that far away,’ and he totally agreed,” Woods said. “He just kept urging me to be patient with it because he could see that I’ve made some pretty big strides this year and not far away from putting it all together.”

Woods played in Wednesday’s pro-am alongside NFL legend Peyton Manning and showcased that sweet-looking swing. Yes, it was only practice, but Woods hit 11 of 14 fairways taking mostly 3-wood and iron. (He hit just three drivers.) He did miss seven greens, including his last three, but he recovered nicely out of Muirfield Village’s thick, nasty rough.

The highlight of Woods’ day around the greens came at the par-3 eighth when he holed a difficult chip for birdie. He nearly made a handful of other shots around the greens, including a bunker shot at the par-4 second hole that lipped out.

The key for Woods and the rest of the field this week will be hitting greens or missing in the right spots. Chips above the hole will be difficult to keep close, and Woods practiced plenty situations after finishing play on several holes. The putts weren’t falling, but it’s only Wednesday. Woods did excite the crowd with a 35-foot eagle make from the fringe at the par-5 15th.

Unofficially, Woods shot 2-under 70. But more importantly, he reacquainted himself with Jack’s Place, where he holds a scoring average of 70.32. That number, of course, is inflated by his third-round score the last time he played Memorial, in 2015.

Woods shot 85 that Saturday, his worst round on Tour. Woods, who was battling back troubles, said that was “all I had” that week.

“It didn’t feel very good,” Woods said. “But it is what it is. I tried and unfortunately on this golf course hitting it as bad as I did it just wasn’t good enough.”

This week at the Muirfield Village, most of the prospective Ryder Cup players in the field will be fit for uniforms, as will the captain and assistant captains. Woods, already an assistant for this year’s matches in Paris, said he’ll be fitted as both.

Woods is 33rd in the U.S. points standings.

“I know that the players and the captain wear different outfits as part of the Ryder Cup ,” Woods said, “and I would really like to screw that up.”

A win at Jack’s Place would certainly do that.

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