Some observers thought Tiger Woods came back too soon from back surgery this spring and his game wasn’t sharp.
Woods missed the cut when he played in the Quicken Loans National tournament, an event that benefits his foundation, last month at Congressional in Bethesda, Md.
After a couple of more weeks of practice and rehabilitation, Woods is hoping for a better showing in the British Open, which starts Thursday in Hoylake, England.
Woods arrived in England on Saturday, a day earlier than is his custom, to get used to the links course at Royal Liverpool.
He said it looked nothing like it did in 2006, when Woods won the last of his three Open championships by 2 shots.
“The golf course is a little bit softer than what it was in ’06,” Woods told reporters Tuesday at Royal Liverpool. “I’ve played three practice rounds now and have had three different winds. So that’s been helpful to be able to see the golf course in different conditions.”
Woods’ back surgery forced him to miss this year’s Masters and the U.S. Open, but he has been pleased with the way he has played during three practice rounds since arriving in England.
“I’ve got my speed back, which is nice, and I’m starting to hit the ball out there again,” Woods said. “I’m getting stronger and faster.
“This is how I used to feel. I had been playing with (the back injury) for a while, and I had my good weeks and bad weeks. Now they are all good.”
No matter how he feels, one thing that never changes is his goal for the week when he does enter a tournament.
“First,” he said. “That’s always the case.”
While Woods’ goal in a tournament never changes, his life has changed a lot since his win at Royal Liverpool in 2006.
Woods has gone through a divorce and changed a lot as a person since then. The victory was his first in one of golf’s four major championships since the death of his father, Earl, two months earlier.
“My life has certainly changed a lot since then,” Woods said. “That was a very emotional week. As you all know, 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 (U.S.) Open — missed the cut there miserably. And then came here and just felt at peace. I really, really played well. 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.”
Woods said he also felt that way at the 1997 Masters, which he won by 12 shots; the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, which he won by 15 shots; and 2000 British Open at St. Andrews, which he won by 8 shots to complete the career Grand Slam.
Woods has won 14 career major championships, but none since the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. He said that performance, which came after he had not played for two months because of left leg and knee issues, is one reason that he shouldn’t be counted him out this week.
Woods, 38, also is not ready to rule out catching Jack Nicklaus and his record of 18 major championship wins.
While Woods is ready to return to playing in a major championship, it remains to be seen if he will be picked to play for the United States team in the Ryder Cup competition Sept. 26-28 at Gleneagles in Scotland.
U.S. captain Tom Watson said Monday that two factors that matter to him: Woods’ health and the way he is playing.
“If he’s playing well and he’s healthy, I’ll pick him,” Watson said. “But then the caveat is if he doesn’t get into the FedEx Cup. What to do then? And that’s the question I can’t answer right now.”
Watson likes the fact that Woods is confident in his game entering the the Open.
“Just put it this way: I wouldn’t write off Tiger Woods for a long time the way he plays the game,” Watson said. “He’s a tough competitor. He knows how to swing the golf club. And yes, he’s had some injuries and other things — issues. But the thing is, he’s had a long career. And I fully expect it to be a longer career.”
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143rd British Open
WHEN/WHERE: Thursday through Sunday in Hoylake, England
COURSE: Royal Liverpool Golf Club, 7,312 yards, par-72
FIELD: 156 golfers (152 professionals, 4 amateurs)
PRIZE MONEY: $9.24 million, $1.67 million to winner
DEFENDING CHAMPION: Phil Mickelson
TV: ESPN. Thursday and Friday, 3 a.m.-2 p.m.; Saturday, 6 a.m.-1:30 p.m.; Sunday, 5 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Five players to watch
1. Adam Scott. Scott, the top-ranked player in the world, won earlier this season at Colonial and played well in the Masters (tied for 14th) amd the U.S. Open (tied for ninth).
2. Henrik Stenson. Stenson won both the Fed-Ex Cup (PGA Tour) and Race to Dubai (European Tour) championships last year. Afer a slow start to 2014, he’s been in the top 10 in five of his last six tournaments.
3. Justin Rose. Rose, perhaps the hottest golfer, won the Quicken Loans National last month on the PGA Tour and last week’s Scottish Open on the European Tour. It’s the first time he has won two straight starts.
4. Rory McIlory. McIlroy has often struggled on Fridays this year. If he avoids that, he could contend for his third career major title. He won the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship.
5. Martin Kaymer. Kaymer, this year’s U.S. Open champion, hopes to follow up on the recent success of his German countryman as they won the World Cup soccer title. “They had so much belief,” Kaymer said. “They played very brave.”