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2013 British Open: Tiger Woods’ confidence, elbow are 'good to go’ at Muirfield

A bad bounce here and an unlucky break there are all that have kept Tiger from winning his 15th major.

Matthew Lewis

Tiger Woods, despite what Nick Faldo may believe, has full confidence that his mental state and balky elbow are strong enough to help him contend for the British Open title this week at Muirfield.

“I feel very good about my game....I've had a pretty good year this year so far,” Woods told reporters Tuesday after playing his usual early-morning practice round. “I’ve won four times."

Woods, who has had his swing and psychologicial makeup questioned by Faldo and a host of others since coming up short of that elusive 15th major in the past five years, said he took a prudent approach to preparing for Thursday’s start to the Open Championship.

"I was always going to just play nine [holes] each day,” Woods said following the third nine holes he had played this week on the 7,192-yard, par-71 links course. "That was the plan, not to push [the elbow] on the amount of holes, especially on this hard ground....I just wanted to make sure that I'm rested and feel fit and ready to go for the championship.”

Woods hurt his elbow at The Open Championship in May and kept the wound a secret until the obvious pain he felt hitting shots from the rough at last month’s U.S. Open forced him to come clean about the injury.

"It didn't feel good. It didn't feel good, especially in the rough,'' he said about having to slug balls out of the deep stuff at Merion. "That rough was dense and it was lush. You go from whatever it is, let's say 100-some-odd miles an hour, to virtually zero and that was the tough part about it. I really couldn't get through it. And it put a lot of torque on it and it hurt.”

After three weeks of rest, no competitive golf, and treatment that continues to include anti-inflammatories, Woods pronounced his arm championship-ready -- even for the firm, fast conditions he had already encountered at East Lothian.

“The elbow feels good. It's one of the good things of taking the time off to let it heal and get the treatment and therapy on it," Woods said. “The main reason was that, coming over here, the ground is going to be hard, obviously, and I'm going to need that elbow to be good....I needed to have this thing set and healed. And everything is good to go.''

To keep the joint in working order, Woods aimed to avoid the tall grasses all around Muirfield.

"Just stay out of the damn thing,” Woods said. “Put it in the fairway and put it on the green and make your putts....You just have to stay out of it.''

One strategy for doing so was to keep the driver in the bag for much of the tournament and go with irons off the tees. It’s the same approach he used when he won the 2006 British Open at Holyoke, where conditions were also dry and rock hard.

"I only hit one driver that week," Woods said. "This course is playing similar to that, it's quick. I've played three days and I've only hit a couple of drivers here....A lot of irons off the tees. On some of the holes, the four-iron was going 280, the three-iron is going a little over 300 yards.”

Woods hit two three-irons on the 575-yard par-5 17th on Monday and flew the green.

“It all depends on where you land it,” he said. “The neat thing about links golf is that it's predictable but also unpredictable at the same time."

Woods, who has been stuck on 14 major wins since 2008, can only hope Mother Nature has fewer surprises in store than what she threw at him in the third round at Muirfield in 2002, which was the last time he played an Open on the layout. Wretchedly cold and wet weather, plus an acknowledged day of lackluster play, combined to cause Woods to shoot an 81, the highest score he has ever posted as a professional.

"I've tried to forget it....I just happened to catch the weather at the worst time and I didn't play well at the same time so it was a double whammy,” Woods recalled.

"That was the worst [weather] I've ever played....None of us were prepared, clothing-wise. A lot of guys just had golf shirts and a rain jacket and that was it," said Woods. "The windchill was in the 30s, the umbrella became useless because the wind was blowing so hard....It was just a cold, cold day."

As for the reason he has failed to win a major in half a decade, Woods was philosophical. But for a bad bounce here and an unlucky break there, he could have put a few dents in Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles.

"Even though I haven't won a major championship in five years I've been there in a bunch of them where I've had chances," he said. "I just need to keep putting myself there and eventually I'll get some."

One need only review what happened in April to know Tiger knows whereof he speaks. Were it not for his ball clanging off that flag stick at Augusta National and the resulting bad drop and penalty strokes, Woods could have upstaged Adam Scott and shrugged into his fifth green jacket.

Indeed, he’s finished in the top six in seven of his last eight Masters after his win in 2005 and won twice and earned a T3 in three of his last six Open Championships. He’ll seek to better last year’s British Open T3 outcome and hope the bounces go his way this week.

“It’s just a shot here and there. Making a key up and down here or getting a good bounce here, capitalizing on an opportunity here and there....I really played well [at Augusta] and a good shot and ended up having a bad break so it’s just a shot here and shot there and its not much,” Woods said.

“It could happen on the first day, it could happen on the last day,” he said. “It's about turning that tide and getting the momentum at the right time or capitalizing on opportunities. That's what you have to do to win majors.”

More golf from SB Nation:

Players duck issue of Muirfield's male-only membership

A photo essay on Phil Mickelson fumbling his Scottish Open trophy

Tee times and pairings for the first two days at Muirfield

Phil preps ridiculous backwards lob wedge shot at Muirfield (video)"

Jordan Spieth takes final Open spot; is he the next great American star?

Unhealthy Tiger will be toast at British Open, says Azinger