GULLANE, Scotland – British Open champions at Muirfield are more likely to be found on a ballot for the Hall of Fame than the bottom of a betting sheet. It has never been known as a haven for long shots, which would seem to bode well for someone like Tiger Woods.
Even so, Woods struggled to find the right definition of an “outsider” when asked Tuesday about the trend of high-caliber winners at Muirfield. Because if an “outsider” is someone who had never won a major, then all bets are off.
“You probably can’t say that given the fact that over the past, what, five years or so … that we’ve had first-time winners at virtually every single major,” Woods said.
Eighteen players have won the last 20 majors, the most diverse collection of major champions in some 25 years.
Perhaps it was more than just a coincidence when Woods dated this trend to the last five years.
Because that’s when he stopped winning them.
Times sure have changed since the British Open last came to this links course along the Firth of Forth. In 2002, the question was whether Woods was going to win all four majors in a single year. Eleven years later, not a major goes by without him being asked when he’s going to win one – any of them – again.
The drought is at 16 majors, stretched over five years, since Woods hobbled and winced his way to a playoff win at Torrey Pines in the 2008 U.S. Open for his 14th career major, leaving him four short of the standard set by Jack Nicklaus.
Woods gets defensive when asked about his confidence. Surely it would seem to have been easier when he was winning them with regularity. All he can do is point to his four PGA Tour wins this year, his No. 1 ranking fully restored, the way his named his bandied about as a favorite at every Grand Slam event.
But there are no answers for why he can win just about anywhere except in the majors.
“I think it’s just a shot here and there,” he said. “It’s making a key up-and-down here, or getting a good bounce, capitalizing on an opportunity here and there.”
He pointed to the par-5 15th hole at Augusta National in the second round of the Masters this year, when he was poised to take the lead until his wedge struck the flag and caromed back off the green and into the water. It led to a bogey, which became a triple-bogey 8 when it was discovered he took an illegal drop. He never seriously challenged the rest of the week.
“It’s not much,” Woods said. “It could happen on the first day. It could happen on the last day. But it’s turning that tide and getting the momentum at the right time or capitalizing on an opportunity. That’s what you have to do to win major championships.
“I’ve had a pretty good year so far — won four times,” Woods said. “Even though I haven’t won a major championship in five years, I’ve been there in a bunch of them where I’ve had chances. I just need to keep putting myself there, and eventually I’ll get some.”