Woods hunting for first major win since 2008
Tiger Woods is back. His three wins on the PGA Tour in 2012 are more than any other player. However, Tiger still hasn't won a major since 2008. Will his luck change at Royal Lytham?
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- Tiger Woods was 20 when he played Royal Lytham & St. Annes for the first time.
The year was 1996 and Woods had just completed his second year at Stanford. He'd accomplished everything in the amateur ranks -- and more -- by winning three straight U.S. Junior Amateurs, two consecutive U.S. Ams and the NCAA title that June. The question of turning pro was when, not if.
When Woods reeled off seven birdies in an 11-hole stretch on the way to a 66 that Friday at Royal Lytham, he had the answer. The gangly Californian went on to tie for 22nd and earn the Silver Medal that goes to the low amateur. He knew it was time.
"The Open Championship that year basically, I thought, pushed me towards turning pro versus going back to college," Woods said Tuesday. "I was still kind of iffy about whether I should turn pro or not. But that gave me so much confidence that I could do it at a high level, I could shoot those scores and I could play against the top players in the world on a very difficult track."
Indeed. Woods won his first major championship in just his 15th start as a pro. He has gone on to win 13 more, including three British Opens. Only the great Jack Nicklaus has more, with a record 18 to set the target for Woods.
Woods returns to Royal Lytham this week with his supremacy slightly suspect, though.
Yes, he's won three times this year -- moving past Nicklaus into second on the all-time PGA TOUR wins list with 74 wins, eight behind leader Sam Snead. And yes, he leads the FedExCup standings and will look to win his third FedExCup title when the Playoffs start next month.
But no, he hasn't won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. And the last time he lifted the Claret Jug came in 2006 at Hoylake outside Liverpool, minutes after sobbing on then-caddie Steve Williams' shoulder as he thought about his father Earl who had recently passed away. In fact, that was the last time he's had a top-10 finish in the British Open.
As impressive as Woods' career continues to be -- and make no mistake, it is far from over -- there are those who think the 36-year-old's comeback won't be complete until he adds to his major haul. He came close at the 2009 PGA, overtaken for the first time on Sunday by Y.E. Yang, and he has five other finishes of sixth or better since his last major win.
At the same time, his opportunities have been somewhat limited. He has missed four of the last 16 majors after having knee surgeries and nursing an ailing Achilles. And only recently has that swing he overhauled under the tutelage of Sean Foley begun to cooperate, as he's now able to make the necessary adjustments when it goes awry.
So while some wonder if there's another major in his future, Woods is working hard to make sure it happens. There is no sense of anxiety, no impatience on his part.
"First of all, I had to go through that whole process of just getting healthy again," Woods explained. "Being banged up and missing major championships because of it in a couple year stretch there wasn't a whole lot of fun. ... I figure if I'm healthy, then I can prepare properly for major championships and I can get myself there."
At the same time, Woods is at a loss to explain the inconsistencies in his game this year. The win at Bay Hill followed by a tie for 40th at the Masters. The win at Muirfield Village followed by a tie for 21st at the U.S. Open when he faded away on the weekend. The win at Congressional followed by a missed cut two weeks ago at The Greenbrier Classic.
It's all part of what Woods has repeatedly called the "process" of rebuilding his swing. He says he's not sure where he stands in that arc -- near the beginning or closer to the end -- but he feels the things he and Foley are working on are starting to solidify.
"If I knew the answer I'd tell you, but I don't," Woods said, adding his probably won't be able to assess the point of progress until his career is over. "I just keep trying to work and keep trying to get better. And I've had a few wins this year, which is good. But also I've had a few poor performances as well. So I'm just trying to get better, get more consistent. And that's something I'm looking forward to in the future."
Woods would like nothing better, though, to find the future is now. A three-win season already seems like old times for the man who won nine in 2000, the same year he started the Tiger Slam at the U.S. Open. A win at Royal Lytham could return him to No. 1, too.
"I feel like everything is headed toward Thursday," Woods said, "and I'm looking forward to it."