Clock ticking in Woods' hunt for Majors record
ON HIS way to the British Open, Tiger Woods stopped in Geneva and spent the day touring a Rolex factory.
He has reason to be preoccupied with time.
The clock is ticking in Woods' pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships, turning what began as a marathon into a middle-distance race.
At 38, and with a body more nicked than the glass face of an antique watch, Woods resumes his quest for a 15th major title today at Royal Liverpool after missing the year's first two Majors because of spinal surgery.
The last time the tournament was held here, in 2006, Woods played with Swiss precision, never finding a fairway pot bunker, and making a handful of nerve-wracking putts to defeat Chris DiMarco by two strokes for his 11th Major.
The local fans embraced Woods, who was in need of a group hug after the death of his father and best friend, Earl, two months earlier.
Eight years later, he returns with fresh wounds that are physical, not emotional.
Since his surgery on March 31, Woods has played two competitive rounds, missing the cut last month at the Quicken Loans National at Congressional Country Club.
There are those who said his game could not possibly be sharp enough to contend this week. The naysayers did not include Woods.
Asked what would be an acceptable finish, he replied without hesitation: "First."
He added: "Playing at Congressional was a big boost to me, the fact that I was able to go at it that hard and hit it like that with no pain.
"Each and every week, I've become stronger and faster. Probably not quite at the level that I think I can be at as far as my explosion through the golf ball, but I'm pretty darn close."
Putting is what separates the awesome Woods from Woods the also-ran.
The balls he once willed into the hole to hold off a generation of challengers are now lipping out or braking short. He has made 94.7 per cent of his attempts this year from inside five feet, down from 97.1 per cent in 2006.
In comparison, Britain's Justin Rose, winner of his last two starts, including the Quicken Loans National, has converted 96.8 per cent.
Rose's countryman, Luke Donald, is at 98 per cent.
On the course, as in the classroom, the difference between a 96.8 or 98 and a 94.7 can be the gulf between valedictorian and salutatorian and other high achievers.
But Woods remains optimistic, insisting: "I've proven I can do it."
His putting woes come at a time when the competition is so tight, every stroke counts.
The 24 Majors since his last victory in 2008 have produced 19 different champions.
"The margin is so much smaller," Woods said, adding: "I think it gets harder every year, just because the fields get deeper. More guys with a chance to win."
Those guys include Graeme McDowell, who won the French Open two weeks ago, and Rose, who won back-to-back tournaments by taking the Scottish Open at Aberdeen on Sunday.
Besides Woods' story, there are various sub-plots.
Phil Mickelson is the defending champion at 44, Adam Scott seeks to bury the agony of two near-misses in the last two years and emulate his boyhood hero Greg Norman, the last Australian to win the Open 21 years ago, and McIlroy, who wants to finally come good in the tournament after six frustrating attempts.
And then there is the American challenge, led by world No. 4 Bubba Watson and No. 5 Matt Kuchar, while second-ranked Henrik Stenson is out to become the first Swede to lift the Claret Jug.
Meanwhile, US Open winner Martin Kaymer said that Germany's World Cup triumph in Brazil could be the springboard he needed to pull off a rare Open double.