- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 15, 2009

TURNBERRY, Scotland | Tiger Woods adopted a poker face Tuesday when asked about his strategy for this week’s 138th British Open.

In search of his 15th major title and first since last year’s season-ending surgery, Woods confirmed the field’s universal assessment of Turnberry’s wicked rough and outlined the risk-reward choice that each player confronts this week.

“You have to be committed to either putting the ball short of the bunkers or carrying them or skirting it past them,” said Woods, a three-time British Open champion. “You have to make sure you really know what you’re doing out there, especially with the crosswinds.”

So what has the world No. 1 decided to do? Will he eschew the driver like he did in his last Open victory at Hoylake (2006), laying up short of the cross bunkers and relying on laser-like medium-iron approaches?

“It all depends on the wind,” Woods said. “It’s hard to tell you I’m going to hit 10 drivers or I’m going to hit zero drivers. I don’t know. At Hoylake, the game plan was to hit about four or five. But as the ground got faster and faster and faster and my 2-iron and 3-wood were going over 300 yards, you get to a point where you really can’t control how far the ball is going to go.”

The Ailsa course has been soaked on a daily basis, so it won’t run as firm and fast as Hoylake. And at 7,204 yards as a par 70, Turnberry measures longer per full swing than Hoylake (7,258 yards, par 72). The combination of the softer fairways and longer track means Turnberry likely will require more drivers off the tee for everyone in the field.

“You do need to hit driver on this golf course,” said Ireland’s Padraig Harrington, who will attempt to become the first player to win three consecutive British Opens since Australian Peter Thomson (1954-56). “It’s a long course, especially if there’s any wind. You’re going to have to hit driver, and you’re going to have to hit it straight.”

The good news for Woods is he’s swinging the big stick far better than he was when he arrived at Hoylake three years ago. Struggling to post on his deteriorating left knee, Woods finished the 2006 season ranked 139th in driving accuracy (60.71 percent of fairways). While prudent, his iron-centric strategy at Royal Liverpool was a virtual move of necessity.

This season on his reconstructed joint, Woods has improved to 64.06 percent. And in his last three starts, victories at the Memorial and AT&T National sandwiched around a sixth-place finish at the U.S. Open, Woods has found the short grass on 76.2 percent of his drives. If that trend continues this week, his odds of winning will grow even shorter than the 9-4 most British bookmakers are quoting.

Of course, the British press delighted in pointing out that Woods has never won a British Open on a course where the rough was up (Lytham in 2001, Muirfield in 2002 and Carnoustie in 1999 and 2007).

While Woods enjoys silencing his critics, he said Tuesday he already considers his comeback season a success and will do so even if he finishes it without a major victory.

“Granted I haven’t won a major, but I’ve come close. I’ve put myself in position to win the first two,” Woods said. “But realistically, looking at my situation at the beginning of the year, to have three wins, I wouldn’t have thought that would happen.”

Few prudent observers would bet against Woods collecting No. 4 at Turnberry.

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