LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England (AP) — Tiger Woods’ last trip to northwest England for the British Open ended in a two-shot win at Royal Liverpool.
That was six years ago, and it seems even longer.
It was his first major after the death of his father, and he sobbed on the shoulder of his caddie and his wife, both of whom are no longer with him. There was no discussion about No. 1 in the world because Woods’ point average was nearly double that of Phil Mickelson.
Now it’s a matter of getting back.
The good news for Woods is that the British Open is the first major since the 2011 Masters that he has a mathematical chance to return to No. 1 in the world. At this time a year ago, he was No. 19 and at home in Florida letting his leg injuries heal.
Only it’s not that simple. Woods now has gone four years since winning his last major, and he conceded Tuesday that they are not getting any easier to win. Fifteen players have won the last 15 majors, the longest stretch without a multiple winner since 1993 to 1998.
But when asked whether he was feeling any anxiety over when he will win another major, Woods simply shook his head.
“I just try and put myself there,” Woods said. “I think that if I continue putting myself there enough times, then I’ll win major championships.”
The trouble this year has been giving himself chances.
If there are questions about the state of his game, look only at the trophies he won at Bay Hill, Muirfield Village and Congressional — more wins than anyone on the PGA Tour, tied with Branden Grace of South Africa for most worldwide.
But the majors have been a disappointment. Woods had his worst finish as a pro at the Masters (tie for 40th), then vanished on the weekend of the U.S. Open when he was tied for the lead after two rounds at The Olympic Club.
He wins one week, he misses the cut the next week.
What’s going on?
“If I knew the answer, I’d tell you,” Woods said. “But I don’t. I just keep trying to work and keep trying to get better. And I’ve had a few wins this year, which is good. But also I’ve had a few poor performances, as well. So I’m just trying to get better, get more consistent. And that’s something I’m looking forward to in the future.”
The immediate future is Royal Lytham & St. Annes. This will be his third time playing the links course, the most for any British Open except St. Andrews. Woods had a 66 in the second round in 1996 as an amateur, a day that convinced him he was ready to turn pro. He made an early charge Sunday in 2001 only to fall back with a triple bogey and tie for 25th, nine shots behind.
Lytham was dry and relatively calm by British standards those two times. This year is different.
A miserable English summer of rain has left the course green and soft, and the rough so incredibly dense that Woods described some spots as unplayable. That much was evident Tuesday morning on the 10th hole, when he slightly pulled his 3-wood into hillocks covered by thick native grass. Six marshals were looking for his ball. Woods simply walked past them — it was a practice round — and even when he was on the green, the marshals had not abandoned the search.
Throw in some wind, and the 206 bunkers that give Lytham its character, and it should be a demanding test.
“The rough is more lush. The fairways are softer. The ball is not chasing as much,” Woods said. “This is different. It’s a slower golf course, but still, it has some mounding in it. The bunkers are penal. And it’s just something that we as players are going to have to plod our way around.”
When he won his first Open in St. Andrews at 19-under 269, Woods famously went an entire week without hitting out of the bunker. His third claret jug at Royal Liverpool in 2006 was memorable for the fact he only hit driver once in four days, instead chasing a 3-iron down the brown, brittle fairways.
It looks like he will employ a similar strategy at Lytham, only the sheer number of bunkers make that a challenge.
“This is different,” Woods said. “The bunkers are staggered differently here. There’s some forced carries to where you have to fly it and then stop it or try and skirt past them. You can’t just either lay it up or bomb over the top. There has to be some shape to shots. I think that’s one of the reasons why … the list of champions here have all been just wonderful ball strikers, because you have to be able to shape the golf ball both ways here.”
That’s what Woods takes pride in about his improved game. Lytham figures to be as good of a measuring stick as any tournament.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.