An 'open' era of majors goes back to when Tiger Woods stopped winning them

  • Article by: DOUG FERGUSON , AP Golf Writer
  • Updated: July 16, 2013 - 1:15 PM

GULLANE, Scotland — British Open champions at Muirfield are more likely to be found on a ballot for the Hall of Fame than the bottom of a betting sheet. It has never been known as a haven for long shots, which would seem to bode well for someone like Tiger Woods.

Even so, Woods struggled to find the right definition of an "outsider" when asked Tuesday about the trend of high-caliber winners at Muirfield. Because if an "outsider" is someone who had never won a major, then all bets are off.

"You probably can't say that given the fact that over the past, what, five years or so ... that we've had first-time winners at virtually every single major," Woods said. "The fields are so deep now and the margin between the first player and the last player in the field is not that big anymore. It's very small."

Eighteen players have won the last 20 majors, the most diverse collection of major champions in some 25 years. Fourteen of them had never won a major.

Perhaps it was more than just a coincidence when Woods dated this trend to the last five years.

Because that's when he stopped winning them.

"There's certainly a connection between so many different winners and Tiger not winning one," Graeme McDowell said. "Because we all know when he gets in the mood, he likes to win a few. I think in the period when Tiger kind of went missing for a couple of years there, it gave a lot of players a chance to step up to the plate and show how healthy the game of golf is, get their confidence up and win the big ones and really get a bit of belief in themselves.

"But I think Tiger has been responsible for raising the bar," he said. "I think he certainly has set the standard for how good guys can be."

Times sure have changed since the British Open last came to this links course along the Firth of Forth. In 2002, the question was whether Woods was going to win all four majors in a single year. Eleven years later, not a major goes by without him being asked when he's going to win one — any of them — again.

The drought is at 16 majors, stretched over five years, since Woods hobbled and winced his way to a playoff win at Torrey Pines in the 2008 U.S. Open for his 14th career major, leaving him four short of the standard set by Jack Nicklaus.

Woods gets defensive when asked about his confidence. Surely it would seem to have been easier when he was winning them with regularity. All he can do is point to his four PGA Tour wins this year, his No. 1 ranking fully restored, the way his named his bandied about as a favorite at every Grand Slam event.

But there are no answers for why he can win just about anywhere except in the majors.

"I think it's just a shot here and there," he said. "It's making a key up-and-down here, or getting a good bounce, capitalizing on an opportunity here and there."

He pointed to the par-5 15th hole at Augusta National in the second round of the Masters this year, when he was poised to take the lead until his wedge struck the flag and caromed back off the green and into the water. It led to a bogey, which became a triple-bogey 8 when it was discovered he took an illegal drop. He never seriously challenged the rest of the week.

"It's not much," Woods said. "It could happen on the first day. It could happen on the last day. But it's turning that tide and getting the momentum at the right time or capitalizing on an opportunity. That's what you have to do to win major championships."

One thing that no longer concerns him, at least going into the opening round Thursday, is his health.

Woods revealed during the U.S. Open that he had a left elbow injury that was aggravated by hitting out of the thick rough at Merion. Doctors told him it was an elbow strain and recommended rest, forcing him to miss his title defense at Congressional and likely another start at The Greenbrier.

He has not competed since the U.S. Open, and while he says "everything is good to go," he has played only nine holes each day.

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