Despite his recent struggles in majors and an elbow injury that forced him to miss his own tournament last weekend, Tiger Woods is still the favorite to win the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield in just under three weeks’ time.
Woods, who comes to Muirfield still seeking his first major victory since 2008, is, at the very least, the bookmakers’ choice. He is a 7-to-1 favorite by Golfodds.com and Bovada Sports Betting has him at 6-to-1.
Woods remains the top choice because when he’s right physically he’s been strong on the traditional links courses of the British Open. Tiger owns three Open Championships, with the last coming in 2006 at Royal Liverpool.
It also doesn't hurt that Muirfield is a course Tiger is certainly familiar with, has had some success on and is expected to fit his traditional game plan for attacking Open Championships. Of course that assumes he is fully recovered from the elbow injury that kept him out of the AT&T National a week ago.
Woods will play well and contend at Muirfield in just a couple weeks' time and if his skills match the Murifield test as we expect, Tiger will have a great opportunity to capture a fourth Claret Jug.
When Tiger is forced to hit driver throughout a major championship, his likelihood of victory seems to drop significantly.
By contrast, when he’s allowed to attack a major championship venue with three-wood, five-wood and sometimes long irons off the tee, scoring opportunities tend to come more easily and often. So do his opportunities to win major championships.
It's promising for Woods then that the links style of Muirfield clearly fits that formula for the world's top-ranked golfer.
As he did in winning the 2006 British Open at Royal Liverpool, Woods' last Open championship, Tiger will pound his three-wood and other smaller clubs down the middle of the fairway and then let the firm ground carry the ball another 40 or 50 yards on the ground.
It’s an advantage he has over a number of players in the field who will be forced to use driver far more often to get the necessary distance to attack Muirfield's challenging green complexes. That advantage is further enhanced by the fact that the rough is expected to be higher at Muirfield this year.
From the fairways and with trouble avoided, Woods will be very dangerous with his strong iron play, allowing for significant scoring opportunities throughout the 2013 Open Championship.
If he can capitalize on those, his distance and accuracy off the tee will be a huge advantage at Muirfield.
When Tiger is winning majors, and it's admittedly been awhile, he’s doing it on his terms—patiently and methodically.
That’s exactly the formula for success at Muirfield, which Ernie Els, the last man to win an Open Championship there in 2002, described as a thinking man’s course earlier this week.
Woods understands first-hand just how difficult Muirfield is and how hard it might be to stay patient and prepared.
In 2002, Woods had a solid Open going before playing in the worst of some really bad weather during the third round and blowing up with an 81, his worst-ever round as a professional.
The lesson Woods learned that day, and has applied since in winning two more British Opens, is to stay patient, play the weather and the course, accept what both provide and not press too hard.
This time around, if Woods can ignore the mounting pressure of his five-year major-less drought, he will be better prepared for what Muirfield throws at him.
He will think his way around the challenging links course and take what comes at him without pressing for things not there.
Horrid conditions in the third round of the 2002 Open Championship at Muirfield got the better of Tiger Woods.
Tiger measures success in majors by wins and wins alone. Given that, his effort in the 2002 British Open would rank as a failure given he finished the championship in a tie for 28th.
A closer look, however, reveals a different tale. Yes, Woods suffered that third-round 81 in terrible weather conditions that also crippled the majority of the field.
Yet Tiger entered that dreadful Saturday with momentum after a first-round 70 and second-round 68 that put him in significant contention for a second British Open title.
After the horrible 10-over third round, Woods ended the tournament on a high note with a 65, 16 shots better than the day before.
Those three sub-par rounds in normal conditions suggest Muirfield is a course that fits Tiger's eye, and typically those are the layouts on which he enjoys significant and repeated success.
Woods will focus on the three solid rounds he played on the links course when preparing for Muirfield this go around.
Likewise, expect Tiger to remember well the mistakes he made in 2002 when things got nasty in the all-too-likely event that bad weather presents itself again in the 2013 Open Championships.
Tiger has crafted a game that is perfect for the links layouts of The Open Championship.
Like Jack Nicklaus before him, Tiger Woods hasn't just learned to play on the links, he’s come to embrace the style of golf it takes to be successful at The Open Championship.
Woods has won three British Open titles by crafting a links-style game that has not only proven successful at The Old Course and Royal Liverpool—the sites of his Open triumphs—but at a number of other sites, including Muirfield.
Tiger’s ability to flight the ball low and take advantage of the fairway run outs that come with the hard links surfaces will be a key component to his success at Muirfield in a couple weeks.
Likewise, that low ball flight he creates with his three-wood and irons will help him avoid Muirfield's treacherous cross winds that can easily move the ball from fairway safety to the rough or worse and unplayable positions.
Woods also understands how to attack Muirfield's links greens, landing the ball in the right positions to let it run onto the surface and to the hole. He has become adept at avoiding the punitive bunkers that the course presents, and is patient enough to take his medicine when he does.
While other top American players, including Phil Mickelson, bring their same games across the Atlantic, Tiger will arrive in Europe with a plan for Muirfield and the conditions, which will include altering his game to fit the links course.
He will then implement that game plan with stubborn confidence and conviction as he always does in Open Championships.
The X-Factor as to whether Woods finds true comfort at Muirfield and wins his fourth Claret Jug will be his performance on the greens.
Woods has putted well on the large and sloping greens of the British Open links courses due in large part because he hits his approaches in the right locations.
He will need to do the same if he is going to get it done at Muirfield, which has greens that are large, protected and challenging, to put it mildly.
That said, Tiger's putting has been a roller-coaster ride in 2013. Early in the year it was good and getting better. Later in the spring, it was great, incredible even.
Unfortunately for Woods, during the majors his putting stroke has been less than stellar, a big reason why the world's best player is still seeking a first major since the 2008 U.S. Open.
By the time Woods stokes his initial putt at Muirfield on July 18th, it will be his first in competition since the conclusion of a dismal 2013 U.S. Open performance at Merion Golf Club.
If his confidence is right on the greens, he will make those bookmakers look very smart.
In fact, his putting will be the absolute deciding factor as to whether he wins his 15th major in just a couple weeks' time and delivers some coin to those that bet on him in the process.