GULLANE, United Kingdom (AFP) – World number one and three-time British Open champion Tiger Woods shrugged off lingering injury concerns on Tuesday as he prepared to launch his quest for a 15th major crown at Muirfield in Scotland.
“Everything is good to go,” Woods told a pre-tournament press conference when prodded about the nagging injury, which dogged his bid for the U.S. Open at Merion in June. “The elbow feels good,” he added.
The 37-year-old American has four tournament wins in 2013 but has failed to claim one of golf’s all-important majors since a sex scandal erupted in November 2008, ending his marriage and derailing his phenomenal career.
Woods, who has battled back this year and deposed Rory McIlroy as world number one with his string of early season victories, appeared confident and relaxed ahead of this year’s British Open challenge on a particularly sun-baked Muirfield.
“I feel very good about my game. I’ve had a pretty good year this year so far; won four times. 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. I just need to keep putting myself there and eventually I’ll get some,” the American said.
But golf fans and pundits are increasingly wondering why Woods, who is chasing American legend Jack Nicklaus’s pinnacle of 18 major wins, is repeatedly coming up short. Some are asking if he still has the mental fortitude to win the game’s toughest contests.
Woods, who is still the pre-tournament favourite despite the fact that his left elbow injury has kept him off the course competitively since Merion, insisted he only needed the rub of the green to add to his collection.
“I think it’s just a shot here and there. It’s making a key up-and-down here or getting a good bounce here, capitalising on an opportunity here and there.”
Woods, who is still taking painkillers and receiving treatment on the elbow injury that he picked up at the Players Championship in early May, didn’t seem to think it would hamper this week’s Open bid.
“The elbow feels good. It’s one of the good things of taking the time off to let it heal and get the treatment and therapy on it,” he explained.
At the same time, Woods didn’t attempt to mask concerns about playing shots out of the rough similar to the ones that exacerbated the injury last month at Merion.
“I’m going to need that elbow to be good. And just in case the rough was — well, reports were it was going to be high, and it was going to be lush. I needed to have this thing set and healed. And everything is good to go,” he said.
The last time the Open was held here, in 2002, Woods went out in his third round just as a storm system came out of the North Sea, whipping up havoc on the course and condemning the American to a 10-over 81, to date the worst score of his professional career.
“I just happened to catch the weather at the worst time and I didn’t play well at the same time. So it was a double whammy,” Woods reflected on Tuesday. “It was a tough one. But that’s the way it goes.”
Despite his problems here in the past, question marks over his elbow, and the fact that he has failed to close out a major since the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in June, 2008, Woods has still been installed as the bookies favourite.
Conditions at bone-dry Muirfield on Scotland’s east cost, are comparable to those at Hoylake in 2006 when he won the third of his British Open titles.
On that occasion, ultra-quick fairways meant that he was able to use his driver just the once in 72 holes and still win comfortably.
“This golf course is playing similar to that. It’s quick. And so far I’ve played a couple of days now, three days, and I’ve only hit a couple of drivers here,” Woods said.
Woods, who finished tied for 28th after his last major bid at Merion, begins his first round at 2:45 pm on Thursday, paired with Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell and former British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa.