Woods going for more history at home of golf
AP Golf Writer
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (AP) – From the middle of the ninth fairway, just to the right of a pot bunker that he managed to avoid, Tiger Woods considered two options from 85 yards into a gentle breeze and executed both of them perfectly.
He gave a hard rap with his new putter and sent the ball bouncing along the links of St. Andrews until it rolled onto the green and settled 12 feet left of the flag. Then with a sand wedge, Woods sent the ball into the air with just the right trajectory. It never left the flag and stopped about 6 feet away.
The sand wedge was the safer shot, and the right one for this day.
“But it depends on the wind,” Woods said later during his practice round at the British Open. “If the wind is blowing hard, you can’t hit it in the air. You have to putt it.”
For Woods, the key to the British Open always has been about control.
This year, that holds true on and off the golf course.
His biggest test Tuesday came not from the gorse bushes and pot bunkers that dot the landscape on the Old Course, but from a full house of reporters who wanted to know as much about his personal life as how he plans to play the Road Hole.
Unlike his last big press conference at a major, he didn’t lose his cool.
Asked about his marriage at the U.S. Open, he snapped back, “That’s none of your business.” Asked on Tuesday if his divorce is final, Woods calmly said, “I’m not going to go into that.”
He did reveal details of a breakup – with his putter. Woods is changing the flat stick for the first time in 12 years, going to a Nike model that he says will allow him to cope with greens that are on the slow side.
One reporter grilled him on his language, his spitting, throwing clubs and his tantrums on the golf course, then asked if he had any plans to be respectful at the home of golf.
“I’m trying to become a better player and a better person, yes,” Woods replied.
Of the 34 questions he fielded, only 16 of them were related to his game, the claret jug and St. Andrews. Then again, Woods already has answered plenty of questions about winning an Open at the home of golf.
The way he has played the last two times at St. Andrews, it looks as though he owns the place.
Woods captured his first claret jug in 2000 when he did not hit into a single bunker all week – talk about control – and won by eight shots with a record score to par of 19-under 269. He won by five shots when the Open returned to St. Andrews five years later.
Now, he has a chance at even more history in a gray old town dripping with it.
No one has ever won the claret jug three times at St. Andrews. Woods remains the betting favorite, and not even his biggest rivals dispute that he likely will be a factor.
“I think he’s going to play well here because he has a lot of heart, he’s got an incredible short game and he hits the ball a long ways,” Phil Mickelson said. “His irons are as good as anybody’s in the game, and I think the golf course … he’s obviously won on it twice. He has gutted out two fourth-place finishes in majors when he probably didn’t have his best stuff, and this course sets up very well for him.
“So he will be in contention on Sunday,” Mickelson said. “I don’t know how anybody can question that.”
Yet there remain so many questions.
Woods caused a small stir last week when he flew to Ireland for a two-day charity event that ended Tuesday, and instead of sticking around to get adjusted to links golf, flew home to Florida to spend time with his children.
Five years ago when he last won the Open at St. Andrews, he had been married nine months. He now can barely escape a press conference without getting questions about the chaos in his personal life.
His image is not what it once was, although Woods doesn’t think that matters when he puts a tee in the ground.
“I’m here to play a championship, and this is the Open Championship at St. Andrews,” he said. “I mean, this is as good as it gets. It’s the home of golf. I’m just like every other player in this field. … I would like to win no matter what.”
His game is about as predictable as the weather in these parts, and that could be anything.
Woods contended at the Masters and the U.S. Open, tying for fourth in both those majors. He hasn’t finished in the top 10 in the four regular PGA Tour events he has played, and didn’t even finish two of them.
And he has never gone this deep into a season without winning.
“I understand how to play this golf course,” Woods said. “It’s a matter of going out there and putting it together, and putting it together at the right time.”
The list of contenders is greater than ever, even at St. Andrews.
Mickelson has played the majors even better than Woods, winning the Masters and tying for fourth in the U.S. Open. He has yet another chance to move past Woods at No. 1 in the world.
“The great thing about St. Andrews is … it doesn’t limit you as a player on ways you can win,” Mickelson said. “All players can win. But I do think there are distinct advantages to length out here.”
Ernie Els is not one to dismiss Woods. No matter what’s gone on in his life, or on the course the last few months, it is hard to consider him conquering these links as he did the last two Opens at St. Andrews.
“I think he’ll be a factor because of the width you have here,” Els said. “You’ve got room to play with. He knows how to play the course, obviously. And he knows the greens very well. When you’ve won tournaments on certain courses, you can putt those greens. And he can putt these greens here. So I think he’s going to have a very good week.”