Tiger Woods spent several hours on Sunday checking out the situation at Turnberry. (Cannon/Getty Images)
Woods doesn't know Turnberry, but he knows winning
Tiger Woods is 0 for 2 in majors this year and doesn't have much experience at Turnberry. But, Helen Ross says, he showed at Royal Liverpool that he can win an Open at an unfamiliar venue.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
If Webster’s or American Heritage ever created a golf dictionary, the term “horses for courses” would be very easy to define. Just use a photo of Tiger Woods.
After all, 47 of his 68 PGA TOUR victories have come on just eight courses -- most notably Torrey Pines with seven and Firestone’s South Course and Bay Hill with six each. Woods has also won four times at Augusta National.
though, only tell part of the story. The world’s No. 1 player has proven more than capable of adapting to wherever he tees it up -- in fact, half of his 10 non-Masters majors have come at courses he was playing competitively for the first time.
And Woods gets another opportunity this week when he plays in the 138th Open Championship on the Ailsa Course at Turnberry.
Woods, now 33, was 18 the last time Turnberry hosted the Open, and Nick Price won. The game’s oldest major has been played at the storied links three times in his lifetime -- most notably when Tom Watson held off Jack Nicklaus in 1977 and Woods was a budding 18-month-old prodigy.
Fresh off his third win of the season at the AT&T National, Woods headed home to Orlando for some serious practice with swing guru Hank Haney. Part of the prep work would include videotape of previous duels at Turnberry like the Watson-Nicklaus epic.
How much he can glean remains to be seen, though.
“I've seen the highlights,” Woods said. “… But I haven't seen it obviously in a while, and I haven't seen what Pricey did there in a while, as well. More than anything, depends on the camera angles, what they show you, what they're able to show you. I'll take a look at it.”
Woods knows there is no substitute for being there and getting a feel for a course like he did in 1999 at Medinah, 2000 at Valhalla, 2002 at Bethpage, 2006 at Royal Liverpool and 2007 at steamy Southern Hills. He just wants to make sure his game is ready when he arrives.
“The whole idea before I get there is actually to have everything dialed in, feel comfortable with my swing, short putting, everything dialed in,” Woods said. “… Then you gotta get your sight lines, and all that means is I have to do more homework once I get there and do more prep work on the greens and make sure I truly understand how to play the golf course and have a game plan come Thursday.”
There admittedly have been alterations to the Ailsa Course, but Woods -- and the other pros playing there for the first time -- don’t need to concern themselves with the changes as much as the challenges of playing a links course.
“Just making sure that you can flight your ball and making sure you can maneuver it both ways efficiently because over there you don't know what kind of weather you're going to get,” Woods said.
“You're going to get years like we had at St. Andrews where it's perfect, or you can get like a Muirfield day or what they had last year at Birkdale,” he added. “You just don't know, and you have to be able to be confident in controlling your golf ball and maneuvering it all around and feel like you can do it efficiently.”
A win for Woods would be his 15th major -- three shy of Jack Nicklaus’ record and the first since that atsonishing victory on one leg at last year’s U.S. Open. He took the next eight months off to have the ACL in his left knee reconstructed and let two stress fractures in the same leg heal.
Woods hasn’t finished outside the top-10 in a stroke play event since his return. But he tied for sixth in each of the first two majors of 2009 -- four strokes behind Angel Cabrera at the Masters and the same distance off the pace set by Lucas Glover at the U.S. Open.
Woods won the last tournament he played before both of those majors -- and comes to Turnberry on the heels of that AT&T National victory. He’s able to practice more than he has in years and a more lofted driver has straightened out those wayward tee shots.
Where Woods’ course knowledge kept him in the game at the Masters, though, an uncooperative putter kept him out of the lead at the U.S. Open at Bethpage where he had won in 2002.
“The Masters I didn't hit the ball particularly well, but I hung in there, and just by knowing how to play the golf course, I got around and gave myself a chance, but I wasn't hitting it well enough,” Woods said.
“But at the U. S. Open I hit the ball really well and I made nothing. I didn't have my speed right, and I hit a lot of putts that lipped out, and when you're putting well, they lip in. … I just didn't quite have it right. And consequently I didn't win the tournament.
“Certainly hit the ball well enough to win the golf tournament, but just like all major championships you have to have all the pieces going,” he added. “You have to hit the ball well, chip well, putt well, think well and that's the whole idea of majors. Every single facet of your game is tested and it has to be going well, and just didn't work out.”
Woods and Haney will be working to make sure the outcome is different this week.