LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — Tiger Woods is not counting the years since his last major championship victory (for the record, it’s four full rotations).
Perhaps as soon as Sunday, no one else will be counting them either.
As the start of the British Open looms, Woods seemed his old, confident self after three days of preparation at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. He doesn’t share the general anxiety about his drought covering the last 16 majors.
“No, no. I just try and put myself there,” Woods said Tuesday. “I think that if I continue putting myself there enough times then I’ll win major championships.”
Woods has done it 14 times, three times in the Open Championship. But the obsession over his longest winless streak in his major chase of Jack Nicklaus grows every time another opportunity passes.
Woods is not impatient that it hasn’t come since his U.S. Open victory at Torrey Pines in 2008 before he went on injury leave to repair his torn knee and broken leg. He skipped the last two majors in 2008 and two more in 2011 due to injury – in both years missing out on the British, which he calls “my favorite major championship.”
“First of all, I had to go through that whole process of just getting healthy again,” Woods said. “Being banged up and missing major championships because of it in a couple year stretch there wasn’t a whole lot of fun. I think I missed four majors there just because I was injured. I figure if I’m healthy, then I can prepare properly for major championships and I can get myself there.”
Woods has been preparing properly for Lytham, which he has a certain affection for after winning the silver medal as low amateur in 1996. It was his performance then that convinced him the he was ready to step up to the pros. He turned pro after winning the U.S. Amateur the next month and then won his very next major start at the 1997 Masters Tournament.
“The Open Championship that year, basically I thought pushed me towards turning pro versus going back to college,” Woods said. “I was still kind of iffy about whether I should turn pro or not. But that gave me so much confidence that I could do it at a high level, I could shoot those scores and I could play against the top players in the world on a very difficult track.”
Now Woods is trying to prove that all over again. He bottomed out in the world rankings at No. 58 in November 2011 after two seasons of personal hardship and swing changes before climbing back up towards his familiar perch.
With a PGA Tour-leading three victories this season, Woods is up to No. 4 and could reclaim the No. 1 ranking with a victory this week combined with a finish worse than third place by Luke Donald.
Does his potential return to the throne in only eight months surprise Tiger?
“No,” he said.
He elaborated slightly more on his recent inconsistencies that include more lows mixed in with the highs he was for so long accustomed to.
“If I knew the answer I’d tell you, but I don’t,” he said. “I just keep trying to work and keep trying to get better. And I’ve had a few wins this year, which is good. But also I’ve had a few poor performances, as well. So I’m just trying to get better, get more consistent. And that’s something I’m looking forward to in the future.”
What bodes well for Woods at Lytham is history – not his own ties for 22nd and 25th in previous efforts but since 1926 when Bobby Jones won the first of nine prior Opens played on the Fylde Coast of England.
Past Lytham winners include Hall of Famers Jones, Bobby Locke, Peter Thomson, Tony Jacklin, Gary Player and Seve Ballesteros (twice) along with former world No. 1’s David Duval and Tom Lehman.
Woods believes the traits of the peculiar “inland” links course with its craftily placed bunkers, requiring some precise forced carries, lends to the quality of the champions.
“I think that’s one of the reasons why you’ve seen the list of champions here have all been just wonderful ball strikers,” Woods said. “Because you have to be able to shape the golf ball both ways here, you can’t just hit it one way.”
If he joins that list, the counting of his drought will cease and the countdown to Nicklaus will resume.