ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND – Winless in nearly two years, Tiger Woods at least has experience on his side at St. Andrews.
It has been 20 years since he first played the Old Course as a 19-year-old amateur and heard the secret was to hit it hard and hit it left. After playing the British Open four times at St. Andrews, and winning twice, he realized that wasn't the case. There are bunkers to avoid and angles to create, and it can change with the slightest shift in direction of the notorious wind.
Whether that's enough to carry him this week depends more on his golf, which he says is not as hopeless as it might appear.
"I'm still young. I'm not 40 yet," said Woods, who has five months left in his 30s. "I know some of you guys think I'm buried and done, but I'm still right here in front of you. Yeah, I love playing. I love competing, and I love playing these events."
He just doesn't win them — his last major was the 2008 U.S. Open — and it's rare he even contends since he chose last year to change his swing about the same time he was trying to recover from another round of injuries.
Hope comes from more than his affection for St. Andrews. Woods said the way he struck the ball in his last tournament round — a 67 at The Greenbrier Classic to tie for 32nd — was as good as he has in two years.
"That was awfully nice to be able to do coming into this week," he said. "I've hit the ball just as well in my practice rounds."
Jordan Spieth drew some attention during his Masters victory for the way he hit some of his shorter putts — he looked at the hole instead of the ball.
Who knows? The trend might be catching on.
Louis Oosthuizen said he used the technique several times at the U.S. Open, where he rallied with a final nine of 29 at Chambers Bay that left him one shot short of a playoff with Spieth.
"I did it a lot coming into the last nine holes on Sunday and it worked," Oosthuizen said. "On a clutch putt, which I felt I needed to make, I freed my stroke a bit by doing that."
Listen to Bubba Watson talk, and you might think he doesn't stand a chance to win.
The two-time Masters winner says the combination of wind and rain predicted for this week will make it difficult for his game.
"The ball bounces around a lot, rolls a lot," he said. "The way I like to move it in heavy winds is pretty difficult. On paper it's probably not the best for me, with all the conditions you add to it. I don't really play good in the rain because I move the ball so much. Lucky for me that we don't play every course like this."