Will Tiger Woods Conquer His Demons on Sunday at 2013 British Open?
There will be no gift of a Claret Jug for Tiger unless he is able to face down the many demons that have thwarted his attempt to win that much-sought-after 15th major title.
Standing in his way is the unfathomable fact that in all of his previous 14 major wins, he has never come from behind on a Sunday to claim victory.
@BobHarig Paired with Adam Scott??!?! Tiger and Stevie?!?!?— Golf Observers (@GolfObservers) July 20, 2013
Furthermore, as he heads into Sunday, he must face down Englishman Lee Westwood, who is the sentimental favorite and looking for his first win at a major; the untenable Muirfield, a golf course that demands the ultimate in patience and shot selection; and a field of world-class golfers, including a slew of former majors winners.
There are many reasons for Tiger’s recent major drought, and all of them are pretty scary.
Even though Tiger has won seven events in the last two years, when it comes to majors, his undoing has been his play on the weekend. In his last four majors in which he has contended on the weekend, Woods has averaged 69.5 in the first two rounds and 73.4 in the final two rounds.
This is a remarkable turnabout since his days of dominance. In 2000 when he won the U.S. Open and the British Open, he ranked first in third-round scoring and second in fourth-round scoring.
That was the old Tiger, the one who his competition feared, who cared little about who he was playing against or even what course he was on, and for whom the question was not whether he win, but by how much.
But, the last five years he has been so close so often, it’s downright creepy.
Since winning the U.S. Open in 2008, Tiger has finished second in the PGA Championship in 2009, tied for fourth at the 2010 U.S. Open and Masters tournaments, tied for third at the 2012 Open Championship and tied for fourth at this year's Masters.
For any mere mortal, those would be a career’s worth of finishes—but for the man seeking to break Jack Nicklaus’ vaunted record of 18 major titles, it is nothing short of failure.
Going into Saturday, Tiger seemed perfectly positioned at two under and in a tie for first to take charge and perhaps even put some distance between himself and the field. While not necessarily taming the brutal Muirfield setup, over three days he had played a grinding style of golf reminiscent of a U.S. Open in which shooting par was the best ammunition.
The margin of error is so small at Muirfield that he and Westwood, who now leads Woods by an enormous two strokes, exchanged the lead multiple times throughout the day.
As he talked with ESPN's Tom Rinaldi about Saturday’s effort and what he would need to do on Sunday in order to win, he looked nothing like the jovial Tiger who joked and smiled after his second round.
"It's just a grind. Just being very patient out there. This golf course is playing different today. They've really slowed it up...The 18 was a perfect example. It's so different...You've got to hit the putts a little bit harder."
An obviously worn-out Tiger looked like he had seen a ghost as he spoke with Rinaldi—or were those his demons creeping up behind him?
When asked what he needed to do Sunday to get a different outcome, Tiger talked more about the course and the field: "I just continue playing well. Continue plodding along, and make a couple birdies here and there. I mean, you don't know what the number's gonna be until you get out here and see what the conditions are."
Can Tiger defeat his demons and win the British Open?
Tomorrow, Tiger will be playing in the second-to-last group, a position he does not relish. In trying to beat Westwood, he is competing against perhaps the only person who is more desperate than him to win the Open.
For the 40-year-old Westwood, it would mean he can shed the demon associated with having never won a major title in a long and stellar career. As an Englishman, he will be rooted on by perhaps even more fans than Tiger.
Tiger must marshal not only the youthful vigor that gained him 14 major titles, but the fury, the talent and the mental fortitude that made him the most dominant force in the game.
Should he be able to actually defeat those demons, he will have righted himself on a path that could lead to even greater historical glory.
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