By Lawrence Donegan | Tiger Woods vs Muirfield
That glorious Sunday afternoon in San Diego remains vivid in my imagination, as if it happened in a dream last night and not five years ago. Tiger Woods would win his third U.S. Open the following day in a famous play-off against Rocco Mediate. But on the Sunday he stepped on to the first tee in the company of Lee Westwood. Bedlam ensued. There were people everywhere, cameras covering every angle. It was as highly charged a moment as I had ever witnessed in sport (and I have witnessed plenty).
Two terrible tee shots followed (Woods miles to the left, Westwood miles to the right). After five years out on the course it came down to this – the Englishman and the great Mr Woods needed to hole 12-foot putts to join Mediate in play-off. Westwood missed his effort but Woods rolled his in the side of the cup, proof positive once more that here was a man who could bend history to his will.
Five years since his last Major
As Woods, broken leg and all, picked up his trophy the following afternoon, taking his total to 14 Major wins, it was unimaginable that in 2013 he would still be waiting to win his 15th.
“Even though I haven’t won a Major championship in five years, I’ve been there in a bunch of them where I’ve had chances,” the man himself insisted this week.
Really? Sure Woods has finished inside the top 10 in half of the 16 Majors he has competed in since Torrey Pines. But of those, only one – the 2009 PGA Championship – has he had a genuine chance. Famously, he was beaten by YE Yang over the final round in 2009, the first time he had lost a Major championship in which he had been leading after 54 holes.
Needless to say, Woods is talking up his chances this week, despite arriving in Scotland having played no competitive golf since last month’s U.S. Open. He has dismissed suggestion that his injured elbow will hamper his chance on a golf course where the rough is thick and nasty.
Muirfield is fast and hard
We will see, just as we will also see if Woods can keep the ball in the fairway off the tee and rediscover the putting touch that saw him reel off three PGA Tour victories from March to May. If he can, then the wait could be over.
Muirfield this week is as fast and hard as the runway at Edinburgh airport, exactly the conditions in which Woods has won his three Open Championships. Victory will require patience and an acute sense of course management. Woods has proved over the years he has both in abundance. What he has to prove now is that he still have the winning instincts when it comes to golf’s biggest events.
Five winless years tell their own story, although it is not a tale Woods himself cares to read.
“I just need to keep putting myself there (in contention) and eventually I’ll get some (major wins),” he said.
What else could he say? A victory for Woods on Sunday and the race for Nicklaus’s record will resume. Such questions will disappear for good. But another near miss (or worse) and the scepticism will intensify and his confidence will be even less convincing.
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Lawrence Donegan is the Guardian’s former golf correspondent and has attended the last 15 Opens. He is the author of several acclaimed books which includes Four Iron in the Soul, based on his experiences caddying for tour pro Ross Drummond. In the 1980s he was a pop star, but we forgive him for that. Follow him on Twitter here.