Is there a pattern brewing here? Tiger won at Bay Hill in March, went to the Masters for his next event, fought a balky putter, tied for sixth. Tiger won the Memorial in June, went to the U.S. Open for his next event, fought a balky putter, tied for sixth. Last week Tiger won his own event at Congressional and he’ll play his next event next week at the British Open and there he will . . . do what exactly?
Fight a balky putter and tie for sixth?
Fight a balky putter and win his fourth British Open, this time by a shot?
Putt like his old self and win by six?
At Congressional, in the AT&T National, Tiger had one absolutely must-make putt coming down the stretch. Hunter Mahan was in the house at 12 under par. Tiger, in the last twosome with Anthony Kim, was 20 feet from the par-5 16th hole in three shots. He had made birdies at 16 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. His chances for birdie at 17 and 18 were far slimmer. He was playing a U.S. Open course and standing on a U.S. Open green in the backyard of the U.S. capital, playing in the name of every man and woman who has ever served in the U.S. military, his late father, Earl, among them. The stakes were high. The putt was slow and uphill with about six inches of left-to-right break. His ball knocked on the front door and let itself right in. Game over. Two pars later Tiger had won the 68th title of his PGA Tour career.
Woods will go to Turnberry looking for his 15th major title and also looking to tie his friend Roger Federer in career majors. Woods has never been to Turnberry, but he’s watched tapes of the epic Jack Nicklaus — Tom Watson showdown in 1977, won by Watson. The game’s history — and sports history in general — motivates Woods like it does no golfer since Nicklaus. If Woods figures out the unique lines of the Turnberry course quickly, and if he has a good putting week, and if he doesn’t get a bad break with Scotland’s fickle and often-changing weather, it’s easy to imagine Woods raising the claret jug on British Open Sunday. Very easy.
Turnberry’s greens are not as flat as the courts at Wimbledon, but neither are they severe. They have more slope than most British Open greens but are far flatter than the greens at Augusta National or even Bethpage Black, which are not particularly undulating. The fact is, with better putting weeks, Woods could have won the year’s first two majors. British Open greens tend to be much slower than American parkland greens, but the weather at Turnberry in recent weeks has been unusually sunny and warm, which should yield fast, smooth greens. The fact is, when your putting stroke is mechanically close to perfect, and there’s not much break to read, and the greens are fast and smooth, you’ll make more putts.
Well, maybe you won’t. But Tiger will.