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2010 Open Championship
Tiger Woods' anticipated Tuesday news conference at St. Andrews was a standing-room-only affair. (Getty Images)

Woods longs to feel at home at the home of golf

Never in his professional career has Tiger Woods reached July without a win. But the world No. 1 is the prohibitive favorite this week at the Old Course, and he's driven to live up to the heightened expectations.

Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Here we are at the Home of Golf. The legendary Old Course, where the ghosts of Old Tom Morris and his son, Young Tom, mingle in perpetuity with the Auchterlonies, Willie and Laurie and their kin.

It's the eve of the season's third major. Highly anticipated, as always, perhaps this year more than ever.

The Open Championship, exactly 150 years removed from that victory of Willie Park Sr. in the inaugural event, begins on Thursday. This is the one Tiger Woods is supposed to win. The one many mused would give him the third leg of the calendar-year Grand Slam.

After all, Woods has won the Masters four times and hasn't finished lower than sixth there since his last victory at Augusta National. And the U.S. Open was being held at Pebble Beach, where his signature win in 2000 came by 15 shots.

And St. Andrews? Well, he won the last two Open Championships held here by eight and five strokes, respectively. He is a collective 36 under in three appearances on the Old Course.

As Woods returns to the course he reveres above all others, though, he has yet to notch a win in 2010 -- much less a major championship. Granted, he has only played six times this year after taking an extended break from the game in the wake of his admissions of infidelity. And yes, he did finish tied for fourth at both Augusta National and Pebble Beach, his only two top-10 finishes this year.

But while this is hardly Woods' last shot at glory -- the PGA of America's communications department will tell you that comes next month at Whistling Straits -- the expectations certainly have been heightened.

And the highest come from the man himself.

"I would like to win no matter what," Woods said Tuesday, the broad grin that appeared on his face fueling a cacophony of what used to be called flash bulbs before the age of digital cameras.

"It would be nice. It really would be nice. A lot of work ahead of me, but to win here is certainly one of the bigger highlights I've ever had in my career, because it is the home of golf.
   
"It's amazing how many great champions have won here, and to be a part of that history is a pretty neat feeling."

First, though, Woods needs to start making more putts. And toward that end, he has taken the unusual step of shelving his Scotty Cameron putter, which has carried him to 63 victories and all but one of his 14 major championships, in favor of a Nike Method.

The relatively flat greens at St. Andrews are slower than Woods prefers -- and with rain in the forecast every day, that likely won't change. The greens are big, too, so having a comfort zone with the speed will be important on lag putts.

That said, the Scotty Cameron had been cooperative in the last two Open Championships at St. Andrews. But Woods hasn't been consistent with the flat stick this year -- he ranks 116th on putts from 5-15 feet and 180th on putts from 15-25 -- so maybe the switch isn't such a surprise.

"It's one of those things where I've always struggled on slower greens," Woods explained. "This putter does come off faster with the new groove technology. It rolls the ball better and rolls it faster. So these greens, I've had to make very little adjustment in how hard I'm hitting it compared to if I had my older putter."

Another adjustment he's had to make is dealing with lack of success this late in the year. He has never reached July without a win -- his previous longest stint without a victory to start the season was in 1998 when he won in May in No. 9.

Woods prepped for the Open at the J.P. McManus Pro-Am last Monday and Tuesday in Limerick, Ireland -- shooting wildly dissimilar rounds of 79-69 in the exclusive event that is held only once every five years. He promptly returned home to Florida to spend some quality time with his two children, which he called an "incredible experience."

The world No. 1 arrived in St. Andrews on Sunday and promptly played a practice round in gale-force winds. Woods had two more under his belt by late Tuesday morning when he held a highly anticipated news conference -- at least by the British press -- that featured crouching room only in the aisles.

"It's great to be back," Woods said. "Great to be back playing this golf course, and it is playing a little bit differently than it was the last two times we've played here, or the last three times actually I've played here. The greens are a little bit slower, and granted, they had to be, especially on Sunday when it was actually unplayable.
   
"It'll be interesting. I know the weather is not supposed to be very good coming in for this week, so all the players are going to have to make some adjustments. But this golf course is still in spectacular shape, and I'm looking forward to another great championship."

Even with the way he dominated the last two times the Open was held at St. Andrews, Woods was hard-pressed to pick a specific advantage he owned over the rest of the field. The key is putting your ball in the right places, he said.

"Just because it's wide off the tee doesn't mean you can blow it all over the place,'" Woods explained. "You have to hit the ball in the correct spots. And the two years that I've played well here, I've done that. I've managed my game really well, and more importantly, I've lag putted beautifully."

Maybe Woods will find a "method" to duplicate that success this week. And who knows? It just might feel like old home week at the Old Course when it's time to etch the winner's name into the Claret Jug.

The Morrises and the Auchterlonies would be happy to share one more time.
 

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