• The British Open presents one of Tiger's best chances to claim another major. With those coveted opportunities dwindling, Woods is pacing himself between shots at Jack's record.
By Michael Rosenberg
July 16, 2019

PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — Tiger Woods keeps making progress. We know this because at last year’s British Open, he was asked what a mean would win on Saturday, and this year he was asked on Tuesday.

The last 12 months have been eventful even by the standards of the man’s eventful life. The year has, in a way, been a microcosm of Woods’s career: mania, followed by the fulfillment of expectations, and then the realization that Tiger is human.

He nearly won the British. He really nearly won the PGA. He did win the Masters. And he got tired. Really, really, tired.

This is the year when we realized Tiger can conjure up the old magic, and also when we realized he can’t do it that often. The British will be his fourth event since April’s Masters. Three of those four are majors. This is not an ideal schedule for anybody, but it is the schedule that makes sense for him.

Fans may not love it. Some may question whether he really is getting himself ready. The truth is that he probably isn’t getting himself as ready as he would like. As Woods said Tuesday, his game is “not quite as sharp as I’d like to have it right now … I still need to get the shape of the golf ball a little bit better than I am.” But this is as ready as he can be without wrecking his back.

Woods is chasing Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors, but he is chasing it deliberately. Last year, he was so excited about competing again that he aimed for too many targets. He wanted to play the last World Golf Championships event at Firestone Country Club in Akron, where he has dominated, so he scrambled to make it to the top 50 in the rankings. He pushed himself through the FedEx Cup playoffs, won the Tour Championship, and arrived at the Ryder Cup outside Paris looking like he needed to take a cart.

“I played too much,” Woods said. “I played 17 events … I want to play here as long as I possibly can. And you have to understand: If I play a lot, I won’t be out here that long.”

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Even at his peak, Woods was a judicious scheduler; the PGA Tour would have loved for him to play more because he was by far the sport’s biggest attraction. Woods was focused on winning majors. But even he often said there was no preparation quite like playing tournament golf.

Now Woods is battling time on two fronts. His body is not the same, of course, after all his surgeries. And the majors schedule has been compressed.

The PGA Championship’s move from August to May was good for the PGA and will be good for golf. But it was not good for Tiger Woods.

Woods said winning this year’s Masters “took a lot out of me.” It was clear that he meant physically and emotionally. Under the previous majors schedule, Woods could have taken a month off, played the Memorial and maybe one other event, then been ready for the U.S. Open. Instead, he showed up to the PGA at Bethpage Black in May and still seemed drained. Then he played the Memorial and arrived at Pebble Beach for the U.S. Open looking better but still not playing great. He has not played since.

Woods’ best chances to win majors, going forward, will probably be at the Masters and the British. We have seen the value of experience at both events. Tom Watson nearly won the Open at age 58, and Jack Nicklaus contended at the Masters at the same age. The Masters and British both favor creativity and intelligence, instead of the bomb-and-gouge approach that sometimes wins elsewhere.

But the Masters will generally be Woods’s best chance. He has won five times there, and also, it is the first major of the year. He can make sure he is ready for that one.

The British? It’s the last leg of a tightly compressed race. If Woods contends here, it will be on guile and smarts—which is possible. As Woods said, “There is an art to playing links golf. It’s not, ‘OK, I have 152 yards, bring out the automatic nine-iron and hit it 152. Here, 152 could be a little bump-and-run pitching wedge. It could be a lot of different things.”

So: What would a victory at the British mean? Last year on Saturday, he said, “Let me try and get there first, and ask me again.” This year on Tuesday, he said, “Let’s take it one step at a time.” We got a pretty good idea of what it would mean when he won the Masters. But it would also mean Tiger Woods has mastered the art of pacing himself.

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