GULLANE, Scotland – Tiger Woods said Tuesday his ailing left elbow has healed, and that the injury that caused him to wince at the U.S. Open and later kept him out of action should not affect him as he pursues a fourth British Open golf championship beginning Thursday at Muirfield.
“The elbow feels good,” Woods said. “It’s one of the good things of taking the time off to let it heal and get the treatment and therapy on it.
“The main reason was that coming over here, the ground is going to be hard, obviously. And I’m going to need that elbow to be good.”
Woods is set to begin his 17th Open at 6:45 a.m. PDT Thursday with Graeme McDowell, winner of the 2010 U.S. Open, and Louis Oosthuizen, who won the British Open that same summer.
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Thus his playing partners are part of a growing group: golfers who have won majors since Woods’ last victory in such a championship, at the 2008 U.S. Open.
Woods has played in 16 of the 20 majors since then, finishing in the top four six times. He has, though, struggled on the weekend when he has found himself in contention.
“I think it’s just a shot here and there,” he said. “It’s making a key up-and-down here or getting a good bounce here, capitalizing on an opportunity here and there. . . . It’s not much. It could happen on the first day. It could happen on the last day. But it’s turning the tide and getting the momentum at the right time.”
Woods has won four times this season, more than anyone in the world, and has ascended back to the No. 1 ranking in the world. And the American returns to Muirfield 11 years after his last trip here. Then, in 2002, he arrived having won the first two majors of the year.
But he caught the bad side of what has become a legendary squall that all but swallowed half the field during Saturday’s third round. Wind came in sideways, bringing a chill off the ocean that made temperatures feel as if they were in the 30s. Woods’ result was an 81, his worst score as a professional.
“That was the worst I’ve ever played in,” Woods said of the conditions. “I think because of the fact that we weren’t prepared for it, that no one was prepared for it. . . It was just a cold, cold day. We played through probably maybe 13, 14 holes of it. And then it started easing up towards the end, and by then the damage had already been done to my round.”
Woods came back the next day with a 65.
The forecast here is unlike anything the players saw that week, when Ernie Els won: windy, of course, but sunny with temperatures in the 70s. With conditions hard and fast, Woods and other long hitters likely won’t use their drivers more than a couple of times per round.
During a practice round Monday, Woods used a 3-iron off the tee on the 575-yard, par-5 17th and sent his 3-iron second shot over the green.
Woods, out of competition since June 16, played nine holes each of the past three days. He said, “I’ve been playing a lot at home, but it’s Florida. It rains every day. It’s soft.”
The 14-time major champion said he expects this tournament to play similarly to the 2006 British Open at Royal Liverpool, where he won the last of his three Claret Jugs.
If so, Woods might contend. He has one top-10 finish in the British since that last victory. He told media his elbow won’t be an issue.
“I needed to have this thing set and healed,” Woods said, “and everything is good to go.”
Mickelson guards putting secret
American Phil Mickelson, ranked No. 5 in the world, won the Scottish Open on Sunday — a possible boost to his British Open chances.
He is not worried about his game at Muirfield. Not with a new putting technique he prefers to keep secret — this is Phil Mickelson, of course — and a 3-wood he says he can control better than a driver.
“I am really optimistic about this week and going forward because I’m starting to putt as well as I ever have,” he said. “I putted great last week, and more than that, I’ve been putting well now for months.”
The reason, Mickelson said, is something he figured out after several years of trying, among other things, a belly putter and some unusual grips.
“I feel that I’ve kind of keyed in on something and I don’t really want to share,” he said.