Commentary

Why Tiger can't win but will

Originally Published: July 20, 2013
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

Tiger WoodsWarren Little/R&A/Getty ImagesTiger Woods is two shots off the pace at The Open Championship after 54 holes. Another Sunday awaits as Woods tries to claim his first major since 2008.

GULLANE, Scotland -- Go ahead. Recite all your reasons you're sure Tiger Woods won't win this Open Championship at Muirfield, even though he's only two shots and one player back.

I'm all ears.

He's a shadow of his old self.

I guess so, if you think ranking second in fairways this week, ninth in greens and 15th in putting is weak sauce.

He's 0-for-47 in majors when he didn't have a share of the 54-hole lead. Going to be 0-for-48 Sunday night.

Oh, please. That stat is just dumber than a stripper book club.

No, he's never won a major without a share of the 54-hole lead, but he's won 14 other tournaments from two or more shots back -- puny little clam bakes like The Players Championship and The Other Muirfield thing that Jack Nicklaus runs. A guy comes from seven shots behind with seven to play at a place like Pebble Beach to win the PGA Tour stop and that counts for nothing?

Besides, he may not have come from behind with 18 holes to go to win a major, but he's come from behind with ONE hole to go to win a few. Remember? He had to sink 72nd-hole putts against Bob May (2000 PGA) and Rocco Mediate (2008 U.S. Open) just to make the playoffs, which he then won. That's chopped liver?

He's getting too old.

He's 37. Thirty-three majors have been won by players 40 and over. Tiger Woods can't win one at 37?

He can't trust his driver anymore.

Doesn't have to. He's touched it less than haggis this week.

The whole pass-Nicklaus thing is too big of a psychological mountain to climb. He'll never do it.

Well, if he won Sunday, that would be 15 majors, three less than Nicklaus. If you allow that he can be competitive in majors until he's 49 years old -- and if Miguel Angel Jimenez, a guy who looks like a roadie for Blue Oyster Cult, can be in the mix at 49, why couldn't Tiger Woods? -- that would be 49 more shots at majors. You don't think he can win four out of 49? That's only 8 percent of his starts. You do realize that, so far in his career, he's won 14 majors in 62 pro majors starts, right? That's 22 percent.

He always folds on the weekend.

He hasn't so far this weekend. He shot 1-over 72 Saturday.

He'll fold down the stretch, like he did at the 2009 PGA, when Y.E. Yang caught him and passed him on the last five holes.

Possibly, but he's 2 under on Muirfield's back nine this week, and that ranks No. 1 in the field. The back nine is still considered "down the stretch," right?

Deep down, he's shamed by his sex scandal. In golf, it's just you out there and you have to believe in yourself. You have to believe you deserve it.

Interesting analysis, Dr. Freud, but Woods has seemed a little different this week. He seems to be running a little light on shame. This week, for the first time in the 18 years I've been covering him, he let his love interest inside the ropes to walk with him during a practice round. Skier Lindsey Vonn walked nine holes with him. Unheard of. Plus, he's been telling jokes to reporters coming off tee boxes. He's even taken time to stooge them. When Bob Harig, ESPN.com golf writer, asked him Friday afternoon how many drivers he'd hit in the first two days, Woods answered immediately. "Eight or 10," then paused for effect, "... on the range." Odd and happy behavior for a guy supposedly wallowing in self-loathing.

He'll never win another major without Stevie Williams, the caddy who steered him to his last 13 majors.

Maybe, but if Woods wins Sunday, Stevie Williams will have to watch him do it up close. He's looping for Adam Scott now and they're paired together in the second-to-last group.

[+] EnlargeLee Westwood
AP Photo/Peter MorrisonBy winning his first major, Lee Westwood could prevent Woods from winning his 15th.
Not going to happen. It's Britain's year. Andy Murray won Wimbledon. Justin Rose won the U.S. Open. And Lee Westwood is English. Plus, he'll have 30,000 people on his side.

Westwood might also have Boeing-sized butterflies. Imagine the demons in his head. This is a 40-year-old guy who should've won a handful of majors by now and hasn't won any. He's had seven top 3s in majors: zero wins. 10 top 5s: zero wins. 15 top 10s: zero wins. What makes you so sure he won't come apart like a crepe-paper trampoline?

If he ever gets 15, it will be at Augusta. That place is room service for him. He's not really a links player.

Actually, he's a wicked links player. All three of his Open Championships were on links exactly like this -- dry and fast and harder than Mandarin 501. Fast and hard lets him keep his petulant driver in the bag and hit 3-wood stingers all day. It lets him show the world how he's probably the best fast-greens putter in the game. And keeping it out of the rough makes things easy on his tender elbow. This is his best post-hydrant shot at a major and it sets up perfectly for him. Muirfield might as well have a sign up: Tiger Woods Welcome Here.

Well, I just don't WANT him to win. I don't like him. I don't like what he did to his wife.

Fine. Explain all that to his golf ball.

Rick Reilly | email

Columnist, ESPN.com