Tiger Woods' Best Chance for 2013 Major Is British Open at Muirfield

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIIApril 18, 2013

AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 14:  Tiger Woods of the United States tees off on the fourth hole during the final round of the 2013 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 14, 2013 in Augusta, Georgia.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The year's maiden major didn't bring Tiger Woods his 15th title in pursuit of the record held by Jack Nicklaus. However, Woods has the best opportunity to draw one closer to the Golden Bear's 18 this season at the links of Muirfield in the British Open.

2013 has been kind to Woods for the most part, as he's already won three times on the PGA Tour. All of those wins, though, depended largely on white-hot putting that even Woods had never experienced in his career.

Woods' flatstick wasn't quite as on at Augusta National for the Masters Tournament, and that—along with an unfortunate two-stroke penalty—cost him a shot at his fifth green jacket as he settled for a joint fourth-place finish.

The major stage brings heightened scrutiny and pressure, which is not something Woods has ultimately been able to handle since winning the 2008 U.S. Open.

So, why is Muirfield Woods' best shot of the year to get No. 15, especially when he finished tied for 28th there in 2002? It's simply because of the way his game fits the venue.

The 37-year-old is extremely experienced in links golf and has all the shots imaginable to weather the elements. There is no doubt that he has learned from the last time he teed it up at this renowned Scottish course, where a third-round 81 in impossible conditions did him in. He followed up with a 65 on Sunday, but it was obviously far too little and too late.

Many of today's best young players—Rory McIlroy, Keegan Bradley and others—are fearless in risk-taking, but such a strategy tends to backfire when Mother Nature becomes a prominent factor.

Woods has methodically navigated his way around Open Championship venues three previous times to triumph. Although those victories all involved Woods going double-digits under par, the more competitive rounds he plays in 2013, the better acclimated his game will be.

Particularly at the British Open, getting on the proper side of the draw is critical to success when conditions are difficult. 2002 happened to be the time Woods got the worst of it, and the weather was too much to overcome.

To step away from Woods for a moment for an applicable analogy, that was precisely what drove Louis Oosthuizen to his first major win at St. Andrews in 2010.

Credit Oosthuizen for playing magnificent golf to run away with the tournament by seven strokes, but the genesis of that sizable advantage occurred in the second round. McIlroy fired a nine-under 63 to open the event but was caught in the afternoon wave.

Oosthuizen was in the clubhouse with a 67 thanks to tame conditions, but McIlroy struggled to a round of 80, and the others on the course at that time could barely play in the gusty winds.

Back in 2002, Woods still had the intimidation factor and power advantage over his opponents to attack courses at will. That is no longer the case, but Woods' golf has also evolved so much since then.

Driving accuracy has once again emerged as Woods' Achilles' heel. The landing areas at the British are far more favorable than those he will encounter in the two other majors.

The U.S. Open may be the last major title Woods grabbed, but this is the first time Merion Golf Club will host the event in his career. Bovada has him as the 9-2 favorite, but it's not the ideal site for him to win.

It's a tight course that puts a premium on positioning off the tee. That is the unquestioned weakness in Woods' game at the moment, and it would take an extraordinary effort to pull out a win there in that context.

The PGA Championship is typically a birdie-fest, but Oak Hill's East Course last played host to Shaun Micheel's breakthrough victory in 2003, when he won with a score of three under overall. If that holds true again, it essentially plays as a U.S. Open venue.

Although he was in the midst of a slump at that time, Oak Hill is the place where Woods has his worst finish in that event. He also called it the "hardest, fairest course" he's ever played (h/t OakHillCC.com).

Considering how well Woods is playing this season thus far, though, it's hard to imagine he'll come up empty handed at the majors.

With one more taste of major golf at Merion and the second-to-none finesse to excel on the arduous track at Muirfield, look for Woods to capture the Claret Jug in July.