The Open 2013: Tiger Woods: I’m as good as I’ve ever been, but the opposition has improved

Is the favourite suffering psychologically as he chases his 15th major? Not a bit of it, he tells Kevin Garside at Muirfield

Muirfield

If health and happiness are the principal goals in life then Tiger Woods is already a winner as he embarks on his 17th Open Championship. The body, in this instance his left elbow, is mended and the heart is full of love for this place. Whether that means he is any more likely to claim a fist major in five years he could not say. But if mood be the measure Woods is bang in the slot. He was certainly sunny side up after the green keeper finally relented, waving him on to the course shortly before the cock crowed seven. 

Nine holes were enough to get the pace of greens and a grip on conditions. As ever Woods is meticulous in his pre-match calculations, reprising the rhythms of visits past to bring himself to a performance peak. He invites us to dismiss the cod psychology of the experts, led by Sir Nick Faldo, who suggests that that the challenge of claiming that 15 major is weighing too heavily on him now.  

“I feel good about my game. I have felt very, very good going into major championships. I've had a pretty good year this year, won four times. Even though I have not won a major in five years, I've had chances in a bunch of them. I just need to keep putting myself there and eventually I'll get some. It is a shot here and there. It's making a key up-and-down here or getting a good bounced there. At Augusta was one of those examples. I played well, and a good shot ended up getting a bad break. It is not much. It is about getting the momentum at the right time and capitalising on opportunities.”

Woods insists he is a better player now than he was in the winning years at the turn of the millennium. It is the playground that has changed. While Woods was sleeping off the hangover of personal scandal, the gates opened to bigger boys who hit the ball a long way, and smaller boys who keep pace with enhanced tools. His absence from the podium since Torrey Pines in 2006 has seen an influx of different winners, 18 in 20 majors, many of them first-timers.

Last year he ended his two-year winless streak on the PGA Tour. This year he has won four times. Faldo would have it that the pressure of chasing down Jack Nicklaus's total of 18 majors is a factor. Woods, he says, no longer comes up with the shots when he needs to as he did in his prime. Faldo is, of course, milking the untestable premise for all its worth. Until Woods breaks through, who can say Faldo is wrong? Woods plays the debate straight, content to bide his time, knowing that the iron psyche that saw him home 14 times in his youth has not perished. The way he squeezed the pips of Sergio Garcia at the Players in May, would suggest he is right to keep believing. And as he says, it has never been easy to win a big one.

“There is a lot of pressure in major championships and you are also playing under the most difficult conditions. You are getting close to the top 100 players in the world. You combine the strength of the field with the most difficult conditions and the heightened pressure and you are going to get guys making mistakes. That's the way it is. You just don't know until the back nine on Sunday. As well as the fields being so deep the equipment has changed. It's so precise now. This allows guys to basically stack up. When you get that combines with more athletic, better players you are going to get more first-time winners.”

The roll call of past champions points to a pedigree winner this week. Woods advances the view that Muirfield asks more of players technically because the layout of the course compels golfers to confront with wind from every direction. “You have to be able to shape your shots.  It's similar to the list of winners at our last major, the US Open at Merion, all wonderful ball strikers. The number of hall of famers that have won here shows that you really have to hit the ball well. There are so many different angles and different winds you have to manoeuvre the ball both ways.”

Woods is steeped in the traditions of this game, understands the value of returning to golf's mother country to contest the Open, a tournament he has won three times. “I love this championship. There are only certain places where you can truly play this type of golf, bounce the ball up, shape shots and be creative. I fell in love with it 17 years ago. When I first came over here the Scottish Open at Carnoustie and St Andrews were back-to-back weeks. That's as good as it gets.”

There was not a seat in the house for the Woods media address. Win or lose he continues to define the game. His management of the scrutiny he attracts has largely drained his appearances in front of a camera of drama, but we can tolerate the bore draws as long the sparks come off the club face when he hits the ball. On Wednesday it is the turn of his deputy, the king-in-waiting, Rory McIlroy, to talk us through his prospects at the 142 Open. Faldo had words for him, too. Concentrate on the golf, he said. Woods has some expertise in this area and is inclined to back McIlroy's talent over Faldo's counsel.

“I won a major in my first one out as a pro (Masters '97) and then I proceeded to alter my swing. It took me almost two years before it clicked in. I was getting questioned quite a bit through that stage of my career, why would you change something after winning the Masters by 12? I've gone through that process. He's going through that right now. Only he knows if it is for the betterment of his game. People speculate and analyse what he should or shouldn't do but deep down he knows what he is doing.”

 



Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor