2014 British Open: Last-Minute Predictions for Tiger Woods

Brendan O'Meara@@BrendanOMearaFeatured ColumnistJuly 16, 2014

2014 British Open: Last-Minute Predictions for Tiger Woods

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    It's encouraging to see Tiger Woods swinging a golf club again. Not just swinging again, but swinging in a major golf tournament. 

    He missed the Masters and the U.S. Open this year after he had back surgery to fix a pinched nerve which he apparently had been dealing with for some time. Now he's pain free and hoping to make some noise at the same course he so tactfully won at back in 2006.

    There isn't a huge body of work for his 2014 campaign, so how he will do is anybody's guess. Read on for the last-minute predictions before Woods tees it up on Thursday (4:04 a.m. ET).

The Back Won't Be an Issue...or Will It?

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    Enough with the back already! Of course that's the question of the week. Woods has played several practice rounds and he's been pleased with the pace of his swing. 

    Still, not a swing will go by without the microscope looking squarely through his long-sleeved Nike shirts to the small of his lower back. Per Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN:

    That's why this week and this major are less of a crossroads and more of a starting point. It doesn't matter whether he wins this week. Chances are he won't. Right now, the only thing that matters is that he's here.

    In a story by David Lariviere in Forbes, he quotes spinal surgeon Dr. Alfred O. Bonati.

    "The elements of the mechanics of the spine need to be considered in an athlete and, even if you correct the cause of the problem, his performance may not be what it was before," Dr. Bonati said in the piece.

    That's what we're all tuning in to see.

Woods Will Have Trouble Hitting Fairways

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    In 2006, Woods deftly kept his driver in the bag. He used his irons to slice up the course, stay in the fairways and keep himself out of trouble.

    "He was determined to just have no penalty shots, hitting sideways out of a bunker is essentially a one-stroke penalty," Hank Haney, Woods' former swing coach, told Rex Hoggard in a story for the Golf Channel. "If you hit driver it is virtually impossible to avoid some penalty shots."

    The conditions in 2006 were fast and dry. Eight years later it could be lush and soft, especially with some of the rain forecasted for the weekend. Haney added in that same story:

    With the absence of a stinger shot and a much softer course it will be interesting to see his strategy. If he has to hit woods it will be tough for him, people forget that ’06 was arguably Tiger's greatest ballstriking week ever, it was about much more than just strategy.

    Woods and woods sometimes go together about as well as oil and water.

Woods Will Be All-Out to Make the Cut

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    Since his back surgery Woods has played exactly two rounds of competitive golf. Two.

    He's not 100 percent yet and that could be a problem. People will point to his win in the 2008 U.S. Open on a broken leg and frayed ACL to suggest that Woods doesn't necessarily have to be the terminator of old to win. That was six years ago—and though it's golf and not football, time and age creep up much faster through the mid- and late 30s.

    Woods told Steve DiMeglio of USA Today:

    Once I started getting stronger, more stable, I could work on my explosiveness, and start getting my speed back. Each and every week I've gotten 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, pretty darn close.

    That may be the case come Friday, only this time he'll be talking about making the cut: pretty darn close.

There Will Be No Moral Victories

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    Moral victories are just another name for losses.

    Woods is here because he thinks he can win. It sounds preposterous, but that's the case.

    (Frankly, would you want to hear Woods say anything different? The day you hear Woods say, "I'm coming to a major just to get my legs back under me" is truly the day Jack Nicklaus sits pretty on 18.)

    ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski writes:

    Question: "Given your limited preparation coming in here, what would be an acceptable finish for you this weekend?"

    Woods: "First." 

    Question: "Anything less than that would be unacceptable?"

    Woods: "That's always the case, yeah."

    Whether Woods makes the cut or not, he's going for broke. 

10- to 15-Foot Putts Could Be the Difference

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    Let's say, for instance, that Woods' ball-striking isn't as crisp as it was here eight years ago. There's a good chance that when he flies it into a green he's not getting any tap-ins.

    In limited play this year, Woods' percentage of three- to five-foot putts made is 85.11 percent. Those need to drain all weekend. But what about the 10-foot to 15-foot range? Woods has made nine of 32 putts on the year for 28.13 percent.

    Woods can't win the tournament with his iron play, but he can lose it if he's not careful. His putting is what will win him this tournament if he's sharp (or keep him from booking Air Tiger back to Florida on Friday).

    If he's rimming out short putts and coming up short on long, but makeable ones, Woods will be tossing his clubs all over Royal Liverpool.

If He Wins, This Will Be the Sweetest Major

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    There's a 5,000-word essay embedded into this slide, but we'll have to do with about 200.

    It's been a long road traveled since 2008. Woods won his last major when President George W. Bush was in the last year of his second term in office (sorry to play the trite blank was President when blank happened). Woods was still married to Elin Nordegren. 

    Yes, Woods has won tournaments since his personal life became the stuff normally reserved for a Kardashian. It has always been about the majors for Woods, always been about chasing Nicklaus (there's the name of a bad golf memoir). 

    It took Roger Federer quite a bit of time to finally surpass Pete Sampras' Grand Slam record. These things aren't easy when you're in your 30s. Players who grew up watching Woods fist-pump aren't scared to be in a pairing with him.

    This is also the most Woods has been doubted in his entire career.

    If he wins the British, he could drink bile from the Claret Jug and it will taste like nectar.