Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Woods Happy to Face the Sceptics; Nothing Fazes Tiger as He Brushes off Questions over Major Troubles

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Woods Happy to Face the Sceptics; Nothing Fazes Tiger as He Brushes off Questions over Major Troubles

Article excerpt


IT WAS a day to test just how vulnerable Tiger Woods is going to be in this year's Open. He sat down for his annual state-of-the-Tiger address at Royal St George's this lunchtime to be grilled about his dodgy form in majors and his wounded knee and to be reminded about the nightmare in the Muirfield gale and the impending nightmare of an inspired Ernie Els.

Yet he wasn't about to bite. When someone asked him how long it had taken him to recover from that third round 81 at Muirfield last year, the worst round of his professional career, he just responded: "That night".

When the questioner persisted, positive that Woods must have experienced some sort of hangover, the Tiger just toyed with his tormentor, shrugging amid much laughter: "Well, I shot 65 the next day."

Somehow, this response seemed to sum up a serenity which just won't be dented. He still remembered Muirfield, he said, because he always gleaned as much from the bad rounds as he did from the good.

We all search for cracks in Woods's matchless armoury and steely demeanour and the best we can do is that, for the moment, he doesn't hold a major title. Some try to mention the word slump and then you're forced to concede that if four wins in 11 tournaments this year represents a slump then everyone else might as well call it a day.

So, in the event there's actually nothing wrong with either his form or his frame of mind, another questioner noted hopefully that the rolling Kent sand dunes would be a test for the healthiest knee before enquiring, amid the recent rumours about a flare up of the old problem, whether Woods would be okay.

No luck, there, either. "I feel pretty good," he said, for the only time sounding a mite irritated.

The truth is he has looked pretty good too. Those among the usual hordes who have been pursuing him on the links reckon he has been in scintillating form. Today, Woods noted without a hint of the show-off how, on the 550-yard 14th, he had struck a two-iron drive and plopped a four-iron approach on to the green. Easy as that.

Talking of Easy, how about the eagerly-awaited prospect that come Sunday it might all come down to a duel under the sun with defending champion Ernie Els? Woods wasn't having any of this either. "I can understand people thinking it but there are more than just the two of us playing the tournament. Anyone who's qualified and earned their right in this event can win." Still, Woods sounds as if he believes he has found his best game at exactly the right time. The past year, he reckoned, had been perhaps the toughest for him psychologically in his career because of the uncertainty of the knee surgery he had. "There's always doubt every time you go under the knife," he reflected. Yet he said he was over the hurdle once he had got off to a flyer this season, winning three of his first four starts. …

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