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Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Tiger: Royal Lytham course 'tests us'

By Bob Harig
ESPN.com

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- Four years have passed since Tiger Woods last won a major championship, considered by many the last step in his journey back to the top of golf. As it turns out, a win at the Open Championship could lift him to No. 1 in the world.

But if there is any angst over adding another major championship trophy, Woods is not showing it.

"No, no. I just try and put myself there,'' Woods said Tuesday morning after his third practice round at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. "I think that if I continue putting myself there enough times, then I'll win major championships.''

Woods has failed to do that in two previous attempts this year, finishing tied for 40th at the Masters and tied for 21st at the U.S. Open after sharing the 36-hole lead at the Olympic Club last month.

Still, Woods has won three times this year on the PGA Tour, more than any other player, and has put himself in position to leap ahead of No. 1 Luke Donald -- provided Donald does not finish among the top three -- in the Official World Golf Ranking.

A victory, of course, would be far more important than where it would put Woods in the rankings, a 15th major title and fourth Open Championship title.

He will attempt to do it when the Open begins on Thursday at a venue where he has not won in two previous attempts but one he clearly enjoys. Royal Lytham is where Woods was a low amateur in 1996.

"This is one of the more difficult ones that we play,'' Woods said of the nine courses used in the Open Championship rotation. "It's more confined, but I think that as far as shot making, it tests us. It tests us a lot, because we have to shape the golf ball both ways.

"It's not like playing Troon (in Scotland) where you have right-to-left (shots) going out and left-to-right coming home. Here you have a lot of different angles. And it tests your ability to hit shots and hit them the proper distances, more so than most links courses.''

Although the course plays just 7,086 yards -- relatively short by today's tour standards -- Woods said he would not be able to employ that same strategy that helped him to his last Open victory, at Royal Liverpool in 2006. There, Woods hit just one driver off the tee, keeping his ball in play on the fast-running course, positioning himself away from the numerous pot bunkers.

Here, there are 205 on the course, making position off the tee important as well.

"The bunkers are staggered differently here,'' he said. "There's some forced carries to where you have to force it and then stop it or try and skirt past them. You can't just either lay it up or bomb over the top. There has to be some shape to shots. I think that's one of the reasons why you've seen the list of champions here have all been just wonderful ball strikers, because you have to be able to shape the golf ball both ways here, you can't just hit it one way.''

This will be the 11th Open at Royal Lytham, the first since David Duval's lone major title in 2001. But the course is playing considerably different than then due to substantial rain that is expected to hit the area again on Wednesday.

That means a longer-playing course and slower greens, the latter of which has been an issue for Woods. He complained about slower greens speeds two weeks ago at the Greenbrier, where he missed just the ninth cut of his professional career.

Woods prefers them fast, although Open greens are typically not up to the same speed he encounters at U.S. tour events.

"I normally add lead tape to my putter when the greens are slow, but I feel I have a good feel for the greens and the pace, so I haven't done that this week,'' he said. "The biggest difference is we're making ball marks, that's something we don't normally make (because the greens are now softer). And especially if you land the ball short of the green. Today every ball I landed -- we were one of the first ones out -- and every ball I landed short of the green had a ball mark; and that's very different.

"With the rain we're supposed to get tomorrow, I think that will be a change for us as players going into Thursday and Friday. And if we don't get any more rain, it will dry out for the weekend.''

By then, Woods hopes to be in the chase for a fourth Claret Jug, but he acknowledged things are different nowadays. There have been 15 consecutive different major championship winners dating to 2008, including nine in a row who have been first-time winners of the four biggest tournaments.

Asked again if he was anxious to get a major win again, Woods cited patience.

"First of all, I had to go through that whole process of just getting healthy again,'' he said. "Being banged up and missing major championships because of it in a couple-year stretch there wasn't a whole lot of fun. I missed four majors there just because I was injured. I figure if I'm healthy, then I can prepare properly for major championships and I can get myself there.''

Woods begins play on Thursday morning at 9:42 local time (4:42 ET) with Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia.