British Open 2013: How Tiger Woods Can Avoid Mistakes Made at Last 2 Majors

James McMahonContributor IJuly 11, 2013

British Open 2013: How Tiger Woods Can Avoid Mistakes Made at Last 2 Majors

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    Tiger Woods was the favorite to win The Masters this past April. Likewise, he was the bookmakers' pick to take the 2013 U.S. Open last month. Woods, however, failed to win either one of them, extending his major-less streak to 16 events.

    Yet despite those unmet expectations, Woods is again the favorite heading into next week’s Open Championship at Muirfield, where he looks to win his 15th major championship and first since the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

    To reverse recent history and renew his assault on Jack Nicklaus’ career record of 18 majors, Woods will have to avoid the pitfalls that befell him at Augusta National and Merion Golf Club earlier this year and maybe get a dose of good luck for the first time in a long time at a major.

    It’s not just physical execution Woods will be trying to fix this week at Muirfield but also better mental preparation that will allow him to approach the season’s third major in a better state of mind. If he can do that, Tiger will be better prepared for the unknowns that an Open Championship will undoubtedly present.

    At 37 years old and still four victories behind Nicklaus, the only thing that matters to Woods is winning majors. Ironically, then, that’s about the only thing the World No. 1 hasn't accomplished since that 2008 triumph in San Diego.

    To change that next weekend in Scotland, here are a handful of pitfalls Woods will have to avoid at Muirfield in order to win his fourth career Open Championship.

Serenity Now at Muirfield for Woods

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    There’s no denying Tiger desperately wants to win his first major in five years and renew his quest to surpass Nicklaus’ career majors mark.

    That said, it's a strong possibility that the pressure Woods is putting on himself to get back to winning majors is actually standing in the way of him doing so.

    At Muirfield next week, Tiger needs to relax and focus simply on the challenge ahead of him. He can’t do anything about the majors he’s let slip or performed poorly in since his victory at Torrey Pines in the 2008 U.S. Open.

    It sounds like a simple thing, but it hasn't seemed that way for the World No. 1 in recent major outings.

    In last month's U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club, Tiger seemed tight and much too fixated on the results of every swing he made.

    Especially early in the tournament, Tiger reacted to almost every shot, usually with frustration, and seemed to be pressing not to fall behind early. In doing so, Woods did just that in the rain-delayed early rounds of the U.S. Open, and it put added pressure on him following the cut.

    If he’s wrapped up tight like that next week, his major drought will continue; it's as simple as that.

    Muirfield is a difficult test and, like most British Open venues, will play differently from day to day, even hour to hour, depending on the weather conditions. 

    If Woods is relaxed and even-keeled, he’ll be able to handle what comes his way. If he's pressing and worried about what the rest of the field is doing, mistakes will come. 

    Tiger understands this because he has recently lived it. The question is whether he can control his emotions leading up to the season's third major championship enough to actually win it.

Be a Quick-Start Kind of Cat

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    The younger edition of Tiger never much worried about where he was after the first round of a major championship.

    In fact, in many of his victories, Woods lurked but did not lead after the first 18 or 36 holes.

    For the modern-day Tiger, that's not necessarily the case any longer. While Woods doesn't have to own the lead on day one or two, he needs to be in its shadow and playing well to keep his mind right and his typical Open Championship game plan in play.

    That model didn't play out in the two majors earlier this year and it hurt.

    Tiger opened at three over par at Merion and spent the next two rounds chasing the leaders before falling hopelessly out of the tournament in the middle of the third round.

    At The Masters, bad luck and a worse drop cost Woods three shots to par in the second round and had him running down strokes he simply couldn't reclaim on Saturday and Sunday.

    He finished the event fourth, four shots out of a playoff that, if things had gone better on Thursday and Friday, he might have been a part of.

    The last time The Open Championship was played at Muirfield in 2002, Woods got off to that strong start, making the turn to Saturday at four-under and well in contention.

    Bad weather blew Tiger out of the tournament in that third round, but there’s no doubt a similar start this time around at Muirfield could easily erase the disappointment and pressures of slow starts and early misfortune in the past two majors.

    There’s no doubt that if Woods can get out to a strong start, it will ease the major winless talk and the pressure on him while turning the attention to what Tiger can accomplish rather than why he can’t accomplish what he most desires—surpassing Nicklaus’ career major championship record.

Overcome Bad Breaks and Poor Luck

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    Tiger Woods used to swallow bad breaks, unforeseen setbacks and simple bad luck and spit them back at the field in major championships.

    Today’s Tiger needs to find that older version of himself when things go against him at Muirfield next week. It’s the Open Championship and the unforeseen is going to happen.

    The craziness of the 15th hole in the second round of The Masters and the bad timing of his tee times in the first two rounds at Merion are a pair of examples of how forces largely out of Woods’ control have managed to derail his efforts to win a 15th major so far this year.

    It’s safe to say that at least one thing unexpected will come Tiger's way at Muirfield and he will have to adjust better than he did to issues at both Augusta National and Merion Golf Club.

    At The Masters in April, Woods hit a pinpoint wedge to the 15th hole that hit the pin and then rolled back into the water. A bad drop and subsequent two-shot penalty followed, and Tiger's chances to win a fifth green jacket were essentially drowned.

    At Merion, Woods was forced to play 26 holes of golf on Friday due to rain and appeared to have little left on Saturday when he fell out of contention with a six-over 76.

    After both unforeseen obstacles, Woods wasn't able to adjust and overcome as he has in the past. Perhaps it’s the pressure of trying to win that elusive 15th major. Maybe it’s the wear and tear on his body and mind, both of which are now 37 years old.

    Whatever held him back in the past two majors, Woods will have to reverse when Muirfield throws a curveball at him next week.

Let the Putter Flow and Get the Ball in the Hole

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    When Tiger is putting with vision and feel, he is absolutely lethal on the greens. When he is struggling to find the speed and read, he can’t find a rhythm.

    You don’t have to be Steve Stricker to figure that out.

    Tiger has won four times on the PGA Tour this year because he putted off the charts at terribly difficult layouts such as Doral, Bay Hill and TPC Sawgrass.

    By contrast, at Augusta National and Merion Golf Club, Tiger’s putting was more kitten-like when the pressure was on and he needed to gain strokes.

    It’s not so much that Woods didn't make the gimme putts or the ones we expect him to hole. The bigger issue was the 10- to 20-foot challengers that simply did not fall when Tiger was trying to erase deficits and get a run going.

    Whether it was speed, read or simply being in the wrong spot, Woods failed to make enough putts at Augusta National and Merion to complement his solid play from tee to green.

    With the understood disclaimer that Tiger was battling a sore elbow, it took him 127 putts to get around Merion and into a tie for 31st at 13 over par. In winning at Doral in March, Woods logged only 100 putts. It took him only 102 to capture Arnold Palmer’s tournament at Bay Hill several weeks later.

    Bottom line, Tiger has to bring a confident and free-wheeling putter to Muirfield if he hopes to win that elusive 15th major.

Capitalize on Opportunities with Strong Iron Play

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    By and large, Tiger played it right from the tee at both Augusta National and Merion. Yet his solid play failed to translate to low scoring when Woods had it close to the green at both The Masters and the U.S. Open.

    The culprit was Tiger’s short-iron and wedge play from about 150 yards and in, which didn't produce enough “easy” birdie opportunities. In other words, his touch and accuracy failed to reward his power.

    That certainly was the case on Augusta National’s vulnerable par-fives, where Woods often had the opportunity to play wedge from Position A only to hit the ball slightly off target and in the wrong spot above or too far below the hole.

    The same was true at the short-by-Open-standards Merion Golf Club. Throughout the Open, Tiger was often in the correct positions to attack off the tee only to misjudge or misplay distance and give away scoring opportunities when he sorely needed them. 

    At Muirfield, Woods needs to capitalize on scoring opportunities created by his power and accuracy. As he did at Royal Liverpool in 2006, Woods will play conservative off the tee, avoiding driver, and allowing his low-trajectory, long-roll 3-wood to keep him in play and in position to attack.

    From there, Tiger has to improve his short game to allow his putter to get hot from the correct spots on Murifield’s challenging green complexes.

    A couple well-placed birdie attempts early on Thursday and that putter that has been dormant for the past two majors might just heat up and lift Woods to that recently elusive major triumph.

Protect the Elbow from Unnecessary Stress

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    Tiger Woods has a bad elbow. We know that.

    What we won't know until he tees off next Thursday is how much he can protect the strained arm and how much it will affect his chances to win a fourth Open Championship next week at Muirfield.

    Woods missed the AT&T National two weeks ago because of the injury, which he played with rather unsuccessfully in the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club.

    Whether or not the month off between that event and the Open Championship next week has allowed Woods to fully heal is a significant unknown heading into the season's third major.

    What we do know, however, is that Woods can do a lot better managing the stress he puts the elbow under than he did at Merion.

    Multiple times during that Open the world's top-ranked golfer was forced to play out of the long, wet rough and each time it put increased pressure on the elbow. A number of times, Woods visibly reacted to the pain in that elbow after playing the shot.

    Even if that elbow is relatively healthy when Tiger arrives in Scotland, playing from the rough too often can take a real toll. The rough is expected to be high at Muirfield, making it even more important for Woods to avoid it from a health standpoint.

    He couldn't manage to do that at Merion a month ago, and it cost him. A repeat at Muirfield will likely have the same result.