Can Tiger Woods win the Open Championship?

tiger twirl st andrews

Tiger Woods has always said that he wouldn’t play in a tournament if he thought he couldn’t win it. The last time that happened was at the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, which included a second round 61, allowing Tiger to cruise to a seven shot win over Keegan Bradley and Henrik Stenson. Of course, as we all know, the last time Tiger won a major championship was the 2008 U.S. Open when he defeated Rocco Mediate in an 18 hole playoff at Torrey Pines.

Depending on the book you use, Tiger is currently sitting around 35-1 to win the Open Championship this week. So, what we can we expect out of the 241st ranked player in the world at St. Andrews? Can he win?

A few weeks ago, my expectations for Tiger at the Open were “John Daly, Ryder Cup captain” level low, but then he went out and played at the Greenbrier and actually looked like someone who resembled Tiger Woods for good portions of the week. Now, we can talk about how The Old White TPC isn’t exactly Oakmont, something which Brandel Chamblee did on the Golf Channel already, but as Chamblee also mentioned in that video, there was progress made at the Greenbrier even if a tie for 32nd isn’t exactly what most people would term as a successful event for Tiger Woods. The two main positives for Tiger coming out of the Greenbrier bear repeating:

  1. Sunday’s final round was the first bogey free performance he’s had since the first round of the 2013 Barclays.
  2. He had the best proximity to the hole of his career, and led the field for only the sixth time since ShotLink started keeping the data in 2003.

Now, in a vacuum, these two things mean absolutely nothing. A bogey free round on an easy course isn’t something to get excited about and even though he led the field in proximity to the hole, again, it was on an easy course and the rest of his game, particularly from the tee, wasn’t pretty. Outside of that vacuum though, there’s something to be said for the improvement made from where he was previously, topping balls from the fairway at Chambers Bay, and the guy we saw at the Greenbrier.

When Tiger talks about his “feels”, “traj” and “baseline shifts”, it’s easy to poke fun and dismiss them as the words of someone who is looking for ways to justify poor play, but is it possible that there is some truth to what he’s saying? In his press conference on Tuesday, he mentioned once again that he made a big baseline shift during the Memorial that completely changed the way he was swinging. I’d be lying if I said I knew what that meant exactly, but what followed was back to back events where he posted rounds in the 80’s, something that should be unfathomable for any tour pro, much less Tiger Woods.

If this is as big of a change as he makes it seem though, the high scores make a little more sense especially when you combine it with difficult tracks like Muirfield Village and Chambers Bay, but then you’d also think that he wouldn’t be able to turn it around that fast and play well at the Greenbrier. This wild inconsistency is all part of the Tiger Woods experience these days and as much as people want him to return to being the most dominant player in the world, that’s just not going to happen, at least not in the way that he did fifteen years ago when he was 24 and free of any concerns about his health.

Having said that, as Frank Nobilo pointed out, it’s actually only been fourteen months since Tiger was ranked as the best player in the world. With all that has gone on with him, it certainly feels much longer than that, but it really wasn’t THAT long ago that people weren’t questioning his results on the course, even if they thought that Sean Foley wasn’t the right coach for him. Under Foley, Tiger didn’t win a major, but he still won a lot of tournaments and if we’re going based on history, there’s nothing that says he won’t do the same thing under current coach Chris Como. For all the talk of him having changed swings and coaches too often, he’s always won, which is probably why he keeps doing it. One of his former coaches, Hank Haney, believes Tiger can win this week:

Can he?

He’s up against it talent wise just because the rest of the field is so good, but there probably isn’t a tournament and a venue, that is better suited to him winning his fifteenth major championship. He doesn’t have to be overly precise with the driver and of the players who figure to have any chance at all of winning this thing, it’s hard to believe that any of them know the Old Course better than Tiger. No one will be shocked if Jordan Spieth wins on Sunday, but players like him and Hideki Matsuyama are at a big disadvantage having never played the course in tournament conditions. You hear all the time that it takes years for players to learn about the subtle nuances of Augusta National, and the same can be said for the Old Course and that’s even before the wind gets up, which adds a whole new layer of strategy.

At the Old Course, Tiger has every advantage you could want outside of that pesky little getting the ball into the hole in the fewest shots thing. There are better players than him in the field this week, and 240 better players in the world if you go by the rankings, but there is something positive happening here with his game. He’s getting better and at several points on Golf Channel over the past few days, Chamblee has mentioned that he’s a fan of the changes he’s making with his swing, which knowing their history, is a pretty big baseline shift on its own. Even though I can’t envision him holding the Claret Jug on Sunday, I’d actually be surprised if he’s not at least part of the conversation, and not in the horror show way that he’s been recently.

On Tuesday, Tiger said this at his press conference:

There may not be a better chance for him to prove it than this week.

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