Woods sets top target for return

Tiger Woods claimed his third Claret Jug the last time the Open was staged at Hoylake in 2006

Tiger Woods claimed his third Claret Jug the last time the Open was staged at Hoylake in 2006

First published in National Sport News © by

Tiger Woods needed just one word to describe what an acceptable finishing position would be on his return to major championship action in the 143rd Open Championship.

With the other 2,900 words of his pre-tournament press conference, however, the former world number one offered insights into why that might prove a piece of very wishful thinking at Hoylake.

"First," was Woods' predictable reply when asked where he would be happy to finish on Sunday evening. Pressed to elaborate after the laughter had subsided, he added: "That's always the case."

The laughter indicated that no-one expected him to say anything else, but while Woods in his prime was capable of backing up such goals with monotonous regularity, that has not been the case for several years.

The 38-year-old claimed his third Claret Jug the last time the Open was staged at Hoylake in 2006, but has not won a major of any description since the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines.

Woods underwent season-ending knee surgery immediately after that play-off win over Rocco Mediate, while further knee and Achilles problems meant he missed the 2011 US Open and Open Championship.

A back operation in March to relieve the pain caused by a pinched nerve meant Woods missed the Masters for the first time in his career and the US Open at Pinehurst, while he missed the cut in his comeback event at Congressional at the end of last month.

Throw in the off-course issues, such as the death of his father Earl in May 2006 and Woods' public humiliation and divorce from the mother of his two children, and that goal of a fourth Open title seems more distant than ever.

"It feels great to come back to Hoylake and to this venue," Woods said on Tuesday. "It meant a lot to me in my life at the time. That was a very emotional week.

"I pressed pretty hard at Augusta that year, trying to win it because it was the last time my dad was ever going to see me play a major championship, and then I didn't play well at the (US) Open, missed the cut there miserably.

"And then I came here and just felt at peace. On Sunday I really felt calm out there. It was surreal at the time. I've had a few moments like that in majors where I've felt that way on a Sunday. And that was certainly one of them.

"If I knew (why) I'd do it all the time. But it just happens. Maybe because I was in control of my game. The times I've had it I've really played well. I think that in '97 at Augusta (his first major title) I had it going pretty good, 2000 at both the US Open and The Open Championship (15 and eight-shot wins at Pebble Beach and St Andrews respectively) as well.

"And that week in '06 was the same. I wouldn't necessarily say it was every day, but certainly on Sunday I really felt that my dad was with me on that one round. It was like having my 15th club. I felt that type of at peace when I was out there.

"My life is very different than it was then. As I person I've gone through a lot, the loss of a parent and having two kids. I've got a completely different golf swing than I did in '06. A lot of aspects of my life have changed."

The decline of Woods has inevitably seen the rise of a host of other major champions, with only Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy winning more than one of the 20 majors played between 2009 and 2013.

Many of the younger generation now hit the ball further than Woods off the tee, but Woods famously only hit his driver once in 72 holes here in 2006, realising the parched ground meant distance was easier to achieve and accuracy was at a premium.

He hit 48 of 56 fairways for a tournament-leading average of 85.71 per cent and was also second in greens in regulation with 80.56 per cent. And if anyone questions whether he can win a major title with so little preparation, he has the perfect response.

"I've been in circumstances like this before," Woods added. "If you remember in '08 I had knee surgery right after the Masters. I didn't play again until the US Open and the Sunday before I didn't break 50 for nine holes and still was able to win it in a play-off, with an ACL and a broken leg.

"I've proven I can do it, it's just a matter of giving myself the best chances this week to put the ball in the correct spots, to be aggressive when I can, and obviously to hole putts. That's a recipe you find for every major championship, but I've just got to do it this week."

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