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Unhealthy Tiger Woods will be toast at British Open, says Paul Azinger

The state of Tiger Woods’ health is always the subject of much debate and Thursday, when ESPN analysts yakked with reporters about the British Open, was no different.

Drew Hallowell

Tiger Woods has kept such a low profile since handing the AT&T National trophy to Bill Haas almost two weeks ago that the only pre-British Open news about Camp Eldrick has involved his “scripting” (what everyday folks call “attire”) for Muirfield (red and black with a swoosh on Sunday; yawn) and word that the world No. 1 would have played at the Greenbrier Classic but for that nagging elbow injury.

With second-ranked Rory McIlroy and U.S. Open champ Justin Rose knocking balls around the Scottish links that will host next week’s major and Phil Mickelson tuning up for Muirfield at another track on the Scottish Isles, there’s been nary a public Tiger sighting on either side of the Atlantic. Whether this means the 14-time major winner is practicing under the stars in Scotland, traveling incognito sporting a mask, or still nursing his strained elbow is anybody’s guess.

Given Woods’ announcement following his T32 finish at the last major that he was out of action until the next one, it’s likely to be the third option, and that, according to one major championship titleholder, is bad news for oddsmakers betting on Tiger to win next week in East Lothian.

“If [Tiger’s] hurt, stick a fork in him,” Paul Azinger said during a Thursday teleconference with reporters. “It’s [Woods winning that elusive 15th major] not going to happen this week.”

Azinger, the 1993 PGA champion and now an ESPN analyst, offered a rather staggering statistic regarding Woods’ U.K. performances over the last six years.

“Here is something probably most of you don't know: Tiger Woods has not shot under par since 2007 on the weekend at The Open Championship,” said Azinger, who noted that Woods, whose third and fourth rounds that year were sub-par (2-under 69 and 70) was absent from the 2008 and 2011 tournaments. “But that is a phenomenal stat that he has not had an under‑par round since '07.”

Those numbers, of course, don’t include Woods’ highest score ever as a professional -- that 81 in the third round of the 2002 British Open at Muirfield under absurdly wretched conditions, which the golfer himself certainly will never forget (golf clap/Kyle Porter for unearthing the following clip).

While Azinger’s colleague, Andy North, was not willing to write Woods off just yet, he was certain that the mental stress of chalking up that next major was taking its toll. He also suspected that Tiger would “have some lingering effects” after hurting his elbow at The Players Championship in May, which, not surprisingly, is when the 78-time PGA Tour winner earned the fourth of his four tour victories this season.

“It may take one shot in the rough to basically have another major go by without having an opportunity to win,” said North, who owns two U.S. Open trophies. “Trust me, he's putting pressure on himself. He wants this major so badly, he can't stand it. I think the fact that if he's coming in here at all injured, as he did at the U.S. Open, that's going to be a huge factor.”

Curtis Strange, another two-time U.S. Open winner who pontificates from the ESPN broadcast booth, pointed out that Woods would start next week with a wounded wing he reinjured in the thick, high grasses at Merion because he really wasn’t playing all that well.

“Why did he hurt himself in the [U.S.] Open?” Strange offered. “Because he drove it in the rough every hole.”

For Woods fans keeping score at home, ESPN’s lead anchor Mike Tirico tossed out another disturbing Tiger stat.

“The guy is 0‑for‑20 in the last 20 majors,” said Tirico, who conceded, that Woods sat out four of those events. “When has Tiger Woods in golf been 0‑for‑20 in anything?”

Asked and answered, Mike.

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