Woods returns for Memorial defense rested and ready to seek sixth victory

Tiger Woods at the Memorial
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Tiger Woods, a five-time Memorial champion, says he's in a good place with his swing.
By
Doug Ferguson
Associated Press

Series: PGA Tour

Published: Wednesday, May 29, 2013 | 11:01 p.m.

DUBLIN, Ohio – Many golf fans, conditioned by the emphasis placed on winning major championships, might not be fully aware that Tiger Woods has won four times in seven PGA Tour starts this season. That is a remarkable winning percentage for a tour player. 

Davis Love III said people need to appreciate of just how good he has been. 

"People say, `What's the matter with Tiger?' Nothing's the matter with him. As long as he plays, he wins," Love said Wednesday during preparations for the Memorial Tournament. "When he was out for six months at a time, he didn't have a chance to win. But when he's been playing, he consistently wins one out of every four times he plays." 

Or, of course, even more often than that. 

Woods is rested after taking time off – he was spotted water skiing with his kids and Olympic skiing star Lindsey Vonn – and ready to defend his title at the Muirfield Village layout where he has won a record five times. 

"It's been a nice two weeks off, and now it's time to get out and play and come to an event that I've always loved playing," he said. 

Woods said he's in a good place with his swing. 

"I feel comfortable with the motion I'm making," he said, his cap pulled down low over his eyes. "All the stretches where I've played well for a few years, I just felt good about what I was able to do as far as my misses and being able to fit it on the fly. ... I have a better understanding of how to make adjustments. That's huge." 

Love believes that superstars raise the bar so high that they are victimized when they are merely great and not in the stratosphere in their accomplishments. 

"We expect too much as fans out of Tiger, like we expected too much out of Michael Jordan," the veteran said. "Like Michael should make every jump shot at the end of the game or something's wrong. They do it so many times they raise people's expectations. In the same respect, you don't give them enough credit because people think, `Well, Tiger hasn't won the last three weeks. What's the matter with Tiger?' Well, odds are, the fourth week he's going to win." 

Woods is now 37 years old. He has won 14 majors – granted, none since the 2008 U.S. Open – and has 78 career PGA Tour victories. In addition to the personal travails that ruined his marriage, he's also has had four surgeries on his left knee. 

Time wears down everyone, even one of the greatest golfers ever. 

"You can tell when he walks, he's not Tiger – we're not what we were when we came out on tour, none of us," Love said. "I don't think we give him enough credit for how consistent he's been." 

Yet Woods sounds as if he's at a peak. 

"What you're seeing more this year is that I've gotten more precise," he said. "I've been able to work on the other parts of my game and made them strengths." 

No one else has more than one win this year, which explains why Woods has opened another large lead at No. 1 in the world ranking, and why he is the favorite going into the next major championship.

A year ago here at the Memorial, Woods completed a Sunday rally with a chip from behind the 16th green that even Nicklaus, the tournament host, called one of the best shots he ever saw under the circumstances. The flop shot behind the green had to be executed to perfection – anything too soft would turn away to the left down a ridge and leave some 30 feet for par, while anything too firm might run beyond the hole and off the green into the water.

Woods holed it for a birdie.

The Memorial has the top six players in the world ranking and the strongest field in golf among regular tour events. Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood and Brandt Snedeker are all playing. Given his history – and this golf course – it only seems as though it's Woods against everyone else.

What is it about the course Jack built and the guy who seems to own it?

''Most golf courses set up well for Tiger Woods,'' McIlroy said. ''He's won The Players this year, and that was a golf course that everyone said didn't quite suit him. ... The guy is good wherever he goes and plays. It's not like he goes to the same course and wins. He can win anywhere.''

Still to be determined is whether he can win at Merion.

Woods made a detour to the course outside Philadelphia for his first look at Merion, which last hosted the U.S. Open in 1981. Scott spent two days at Merion early last week, while McIlroy is on his way to the U.S. Open venue after Merion.

Nicklaus, who played Merion twice for a U.S. Open and lost in a playoff in 1971 to Lee Trevino, said he would be surprised if a player only hit driver once or twice and won. While the middle portion of the course is short even by yesteryear's standards, the opening and closing stretches are long and tough.

Woods played in cool temperatures, rain and a strong wind. It was plenty long when he played, though he doesn't think it will be that way in two weeks. What got his attention were some of the winners, notably Trevino and Ben Hogan.

''If you look at the list of champions, they have all been really good shot-makers,'' Woods said. ''They have all been able to shape the golf ball. ... They are very disciplined players. You play to certain spots. You play to certain spots on the greens. You leave yourself certain putts and you deal with it and you move on.''

This is the first time Woods has won four PGA Tour events before the Memorial, though he won four times (in consecutive tournaments) worldwide in 2008 as his left knee was caving in. All that's missing is a major – Woods has been stuck on 14 majors since winning the 2008 U.S. Open – but it doesn't hurt to keep piling up wins.