Tiger Woods thinks He can Win the British Open and He May have a Point

It has been five years and four back surgeries since Tiger Woods last contended at a British Open. He has not swung a club in the event since 2015, when he missed the cut. On Thursday at Carnoustie, Woods will once again be making a comeback. Feel free to yawn or roll your eyes.

The golf world has been here before, and not long ago. In April, the breathless longing for Woods to reclaim a piece of his former greatness made him a favorite at the Masters.

He instead finished tied for 32nd. Given that outcome, making Woods a favorite this week might seem equally foolhardy, if not downright irrational.

And yet an array of factors have raised Woods into the realm of contenders here. His advantages include the condition of the fast, baked-dry Carnoustie fairways and his status as a relative elder, considering four of the last seven British Open champions have been in their 40s. (A fifth, Zach Johnson, was 39 when he won in 2015.)

Then, on Tuesday, in a surprisingly candid admission, Woods conceded that he thought that the British Open — in general — was his best chance to win his next major championship. It almost sounded as if Woods, who has won the British Open three times, believed he could eventually win the event more than four times.

Asked if the British Open was indeed where he most likely would win a 15th career major championship, a relaxed, smiling Woods paused and then wryly answered, “Not to be smart, but it is the next major I’m playing.”

When the laughter subsided, Woods continued: “As far as long-term, certainly, I would say yes, because of the fact that you don’t have to be long to play on a links-style golf course.

“You get to places like Augusta National, where it’s just a big ballpark and the golf course outgrows you. But on a links-style golf course, you can roll the ball. Distance becomes a moot point.”

To fortify his point, Woods talked about how he hit a 3-iron 333 yards in a Monday practice round at Carnoustie, where a hot, dry summer has left the fairways as hard as an airport tarmac. Every player has been talking about the seemingly endless bounce of their iron shots.

Justin Thomas said his 5-iron “will roll until it runs into something.”

It is a circumstance that could be more beneficial to Woods than others in the field. Iron shots traveling more than 300 yards will mean that Woods can ignore his frequently wayward driver, the club that has doomed many of his opportunities to win so many tournaments in the last few years.

But an aimless driver has not been Woods’s only recent, glaring weakness. His putter has been worse. The greens at Carnoustie, however, are noticeably slower than the lightning-quick putting surfaces at PGA Tour events, something that may be a boost to Woods’s chances.

Forthright to a fault on Tuesday, Woods wasn’t buying that theory. At least not in its entirety.

“To be honest with you, I’ve struggled on slower greens throughout my entire career,” he said.

But Woods added that the Carnoustie greens are faster than usual this year. And he has switched to a heavier, mallet-style putter that should make it easier to quicken the pace of his putts.

Does any of this really make any sense? Will it matter?

Thursday will mark the 20th appearance of Woods at the British Open. He has finished in the top three five times and in the top 10 nine times. Nearly half of his 72 previous rounds have been under par, and almost 75 percent of those scores have been in the 60s.

Maybe firm fairways will only send Woods’s tee shots farther afield this weekend. That could be a problem. From the rough, his approach shots have landed, on average, more than 45 feet from the hole, which puts him in a tie for 114th place in that category.

Perhaps his new putter will become yet another piece of his once impenetrable arsenal that betrays him. It’s possible that by Sunday, or by Friday, Woods will just look lost rather than rediscovered.

It will be time to yawn or roll your eyes.

But on Tuesday, Woods had hope anew. Besieged by hundreds of fans as he left the Carnoustie grounds, with many of those dashing in his wake calling out his name, it was clear they still had hope, too.

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