Tiger Woods is at that unwelcome stage of his career when the world is more inclined to reflect on past glories than wonder about what glories might lie ahead. Gone are the days when he turned up at an Open Championship venue wearing the cloak of prohibitive favourite.
The question is no longer who will finish second, but what Tiger will we see this week?
- The Tiger whose Open victory at Royal Liverpool back in 2006 stands alongside Pebble Beach in 2000 as the greatest performance of his career.
- Or the Tiger who hasn’t won a major championship for six years (the 2008 US Open).
Sure, the 14-time major champion has contended over those years. He has nine top 10 finishes in 18 appearances at Majors since 2008, a 50 per cent strike rate that his peers can only dream about – but he has never really come close to adding to his total. Will he ever?
This is, of course, golf’s perennial question, the clubhouse argument to end all arguments. Tiger, of course, has never been burdened by the handicap of self-doubt. Once upon a time he could bend the golfing universe to his will and he thinks he can do the same again, despite all evidence to the contrary.
He was at it again this past weekend, turning up in Liverpool early to practice for the Open and rattle the cages of the skeptics.
Once the doubters were a bedraggled bunch, now they are an army, their numbers swelled by years of his major championship ‘failure’ and, most recently, by Woods’ latest visit to the surgeon’s table for an operation on his troublesome back.
Some golfers never come back from back trouble, some take years to restore their form. Woods believes he can perform the miracle in a matter of weeks as he suggested at the weekend.
I was able to rebound fast. I can do whatever I want. I’m at that point now. We didn’t think we’d get to that point until this tournament or the week after.
By most accounts Woods is moving freely around the course and hitting the ball with a degree of control. The course is lusher and softer than it was back in 2006 when he famously used his driver only once over the four days. But once again his game plan appears to be based on hitting irons off the tee.
Clearly, his back troubles have done nothing to diminish his golfing intelligence. Nor has it affected his self-belief – in public he has not deviated from his “I’m here to win” mantra – or his desire to make fools of those who write him off.
That is his entitlement, earned over the course of career that stands as the greatest in the history of professional golf (Nicklaus’ record in major championships notwithstanding).
But if Tiger has the right to tell the world he can win in Liverpool this week, the world has the right, too, to stick more closely to reality and common sense. The truth – sadly for Woods and his devotees – is that this week is almost certainly too soon for the great man.
He has played just once since his back surgery, at the recent PGA Tour event at Congressional, and missed the cut.
In doing so he looked like a pale shadow of a pale shadow of the player he used to be. A ghost of a champion.
Since then he has been on a family holiday and a trip to Switzerland with his girlfriend to visit his sponsors at Rolex. No doubt such travels are fun but, regardless, they are not potential winner’s preparations for the Open.
Perhaps Woods is relying on the memory of that victory in 2006 to propelled him this week.
But this is 2014 and reality has a greater hold on Tiger than it once did – just as his fellow competitors are no longer as intimidated as they once were. Memories don’t win Major championships.
Beware the injured golfer? Not this time, Tiger.
Expect the Open to continue its unbroken record of identifying the best. There will be no flukes this week. Only thoroughbreds need apply, the kind of player who combines power with imagination, desire with the experience of contending in Majors. Dustin Johnson (33/1) has done all of the above but has yet to win a Major. This could be his week if it all comes together for DJ.
As for Woods, this time he will have played well if he makes the cut. A top 10 finish will stand as a fantastic achievement. As for a victory – it would his finest moment, proof indeed that the universe once again bends to the will of the great Tiger Woods.
You can follow Lawrence Donegan on Twitter here
- Open Championship preview: Find out if Justin Rose can finally end England’s hoodoo at Hoylake …. or will another of the golden generation deliver?
- The Links Effect: Picking out a likely winner at the Open
- Cha-ching: How Paddy Power golf punters have been cashing in, even if their player shoots the lights out
- Open Championship betting preview: The 7 players you’re backing with Paddy Power for Hoylake glory