Is Tiger ready after his long layoff?
Tiger hasn't played in a while. Will the time away matter at the Open Championship? Is Muirfield the toughest course on the Open rotation? Our experts analyze those and other pressing topics in golf in our latest edition of Monday Four-Ball.
1. Tiger Woods hasn't hit a competitive shot since the U.S. Open. How much will the layoff hurt him?
Bob Harig: It will help the injury heal, but the time away from practice and preparation cannot be good for someone coming off of two poor tournaments. Woods has not played in competition since the final round of the U.S. Open on June 16 and didn't pick up a club for at least two weeks afterward. That leaves a lot of questions going to Muirfield.
Gene Wojciechowski: Well, it beats the alternative, which was trying to play through an injury that clearly required rest and treatment. Woods loves it when people tell him he can't do something. For example: "Tiger can't win the Open Championship because he's nursing an elbow injury and he hasn't played since the U.S. Open." Will he be 100 percent? Doubtful. Will he be ready? Likely. But if he gets to Muirfield, gets his pre-tournament work in, he'll be OK.
Ian O'Connor: Generally I'd suspect a layoff like this one would compromise Tiger's chances of winning the Open Championship, but I think he needed to get away from the five-year Slam drought and the weekend struggles at the majors and all the questions about them. I'd expect a refreshed Tiger at Muirfield, assuming he's relatively healthy.
Farrell Evans: It all depends on the condition of his left elbow. If he's been able to practice at his normal clip, his game will be sharp. But concerns about the injury might bring about more nerves to add to the ones he already has surrounding the winless streak in his past 16 major appearances.
2. Where does Muirfield rank in the Open rota?
Harig: For history, right behind St. Andrews. For the merits of its design, Muirfield might be right there with or even ahead of St. Andrews. The venue is highly regarded and has a produced an all-star cast of champions including Ernie Els, Nick Faldo, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.
Wojciechowski: The general consensus is this: It is the fairest of the courses on the Open Championship rota. It isn't the most spectacular or muscular or historic, but it doesn't need to be. Put it this way: Jack Nicklaus adored it enough to name his own course after it.
O'Connor: The Old Course at St. Andrews is ahead of the field by Secretariat lengths. Muirfield, which started hosting the Open in 1892, is a solid No. 2 in the rotation, a truth notarized by its accomplished past winners -- Nicklaus, Player, Watson, Trevino, and Faldo. Nicklaus respected Muirfield enough to name his own Ohio club after it, and that's good enough for me.
Evans: As an American, Muirfield to my eye is the best because it's less quirky than the other courses in the rota. But St. Andrews is a surreal experience, whether you're watching it on TV or present at the Road Hole.
3. Can last year's winner, Ernie Els, pull off the repeat?
Harig: Repeats are rare, and Els has not been a prolific winner of late. But the Big Easy did win in Germany last month, had a solid U.S. Open and has the temperament to do it again.
Wojciechowski: Of course. Why not? He has the experience and the patience. Remember, he won at Muirfield in 2002. I'm not saying he's going to win the thing, but it's hard to pick a stone-cold-lock pick for this year's Open Championship. You could make a case for 20 guys, including Els.
O'Connor: Ernie is coming off a missed cut at the Scottish Open, a result that isn't necessarily relevant to his chances this week. Can he repeat at the Open? Sure. He's won at Muirfield in the past. Will he repeat at the Open? I doubt it. He needed an absolute gift from Adam Scott to win at Lytham last year, and I'm guessing Ernie won't be so lucky this time around.
Evans: Yes. Els has had a tie for 13th at the Masters and a tie for fourth at the U.S. Open at Merion. So he's proved that his win at Lytham at age 42 wasn't a fluke. Late in his career, he still has the nerves for the majors. Furthermore, he won in late June at the BMW International in Germany.
4. What Scottish delicacy scares you most?
Harig: Black pudding. It is a type of sausage served for breakfast that is made of dried blood, among other things, and looks about as appetizing as it sounds. No thanks.
Wojciechowski: I fear haggis. But if I get the proper number of pints in me, I'm going to give haggis a go this trip. But only if the Scottish sports writers try a half-dozen White Castle belly bombers. Or my sister-in-law's cooking (she once tried to freeze Jell-O).
O'Connor: Though I'm no expert on Scottish cuisine, can't say I like the sound of crappit heid or eyemouth pales. Even Old Tom Morris might've taken a pass on those.
Evans: Haggis. It's almost as bad as black pudding.