It's a major? Then it's Tiger's time
TURNBERRY, Scotland -- So, Tiger Woods, what were you doing last July as the Royal Birkdale winds were gusting to 50 mph, and 63-hole leader/dashing old fogy Greg Norman was defying the laws of age gravity, and Padraig Harrington was on his way to winning his second consecutive British Open? Glued to the telly, were you?
"My day consisted of trying to get from the bed to the couch and then from there back to the bed," Woods said Tuesday. "That was my day."
Got it. No quality TV time. No British Open. No getting caught up in Harrington's two-peat, or the 53-year-old Norman's unlikely run, or even Ian Poulter's pants and second-place finish.
"I probably caught the last nine holes of it pretty good," Woods said.
A year ago, Woods was a patient, not a player. He was about two weeks removed from reconstructive surgery on his left knee, the same knee that had sounded like a coffee grinder whenever he swung a club. He was in pain, in bed and inside.
Has it already been a year? Doesn't seem like it. But that's Woods' fault. He makes ACL replacement seem simple, even though it wasn't.
We didn't see the swollen, tender and throbbing post-op knee. We didn't see the grueling rehab. All we saw was Woods sink every putt like Ty Webb in "Caddyshack" ("Na-na-na-na-na") at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March and win. And win Jack Nicklaus' Memorial Tournament in June, and Woods' own AT&T National earlier this month.
"Yeah, that first one back, that was pretty special," Woods said. "The people who are around me know how hard I had to work to get back to that position to be able to play again. And it felt good. It felt so good to get that W because you put in so many hours of work to just give yourself a physical chance to hit a golf ball again."
But no majors wins since the return. He finished T-6 at Augusta and T-6 at Bethpage. Still
"It's been a tremendous success," Woods said of his 2009 season. "I remember looking at the year and just trying to get back in playing, [thinking] hopefully I can play and hopefully I can play at a high level. And to sit here and say I was going to have three wins halfway through the year -- if anyone would have looked at my situation, they would have said, 'You probably might be reaching a little bit.'"
Really? We've come to expect so much from Woods that those three victories don't seem so improbable. It would have been more surprising if he hadn't won. That's partly because Woods has come to expect so much from himself, too. So we just tag along.
Woods is the favorite this week at Turnberry to win his fourth Claret Jug. He'd be the favorite if his knee still was in a brace. If his buddy Roger Federer tied his arm behind his back. If he used a garden rake to hit his drives. He'll be the favorite until someone better comes along, and so far, that someone isn't in the rearview mirror.
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Say what you want, but winning at Bay Hill, at Muirfield Village and at Congressional isn't the same thing as slipping on another green jacket, or hoisting a U.S. Open trophy, a silver jug or a Wanamaker Trophy. Majors are what truly matter to Woods. He has 14 of those precious championships; he wants at least 19 to pass Nicklaus.
"Granted, I haven't won a major [in 2009], but I've come close," he said. "I've put myself in position to win the first few majors. I just haven't done it. But to have three wins, realistically, looking at my situation at the beginning of the year, to have three wins, I wouldn't have thought that."
Woods can win at Turnberry. No, he's never played a tournament here. But he had never played tournament golf at Medinah -- and he won the PGA Championship there in 1999, the PGA at Valhalla in 2000, the U.S. Open at Bethpage in 2002 and the British at Hoylake in 2006. So that cherry bombs that theory.
He loves links golf. Always has. He can shape, bend and massage shots all day. He doesn't freak out when the rains come -- and they will -- or when the winds change directions three times (as they have in his practice rounds).
Turnberry is built for shot-makers. That's why Tom Watson, Nick Price and Norman won here (and Nicklaus finished second to Watson in 1977). That's why Woods very easily could leave here with another photo op with the jug.
"You just can't fake it around this golf course," Woods said. "You just have to hit good golf shots."
British Open tee times
The British Open begins Thursday at Turnberry. Find out when Tiger Woods, two-time defending champion Padraig Harrington and the rest of the world's best will begin their quests to win the year's third major. Rounds 1, 2 groupings »
Woods hit exactly one driver at Hoylake. When he won at St. Andrews in 2000, his golf ball never landed in one of its 112 pot bunkers. So there's no faking in his game.
Of course, I'm picking him to win. I always pick him to win. I'll pick him to win when he's Norman's age -- not that the 33-year-old Woods is committing to anything.
"It would be nice to be above dirt," he said.
For now, being out of bed, off crutches and at Turnberry will do just fine.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.
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138th OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP
Stewart Cink might seem the villain after foiling Tom Watson's run at a sixth Claret Jug at the British Open. In time, though, the six-time PGA Tour winner will receive his due. Bob Harig
When: Thursday-Sunday, July 16-19
Where: Turnberry's Ailsa Course, Scotland
Yardage/Par: 7,204 yards; par 70
2009 champion: Stewart Cink