GULLANE, United Kingdom - Tiger Woods has made a cautious return to Muirfield, 11 years after he saw his dream of achieving the Grand Slam of golf blown away by a North Sea storm.
The world number one played nine holes over the British Open course on Sunday despite still taking painkillers and receiving treatment for the injury to his left elbow that he exacerbated while playing in last month’s US Open.
Heeding medical advice, Woods put his clubs aside immediately after Merion, and his first competitive round since then will come when he tees off in Thursday’s first round.
Playing with Dustin Johnson and Jason Day, Woods limited himself to nine holes over the sun-baked East Lothian links saying: “I better not push it.
“The ground’s going to be hard over here. I just wanted to make sure that everything was healed before I came over.”
Woods has every reason to be cautious of Muirfield, which will be hosting The Open for the 16th time.
The last time it was held there in 2002, he went out in his third round just as a storm system came out of the North Sea, whipping up havoc on the course and condemning the American to a 10-over 81, to date the worst score of his professional career.
That left him with no chance of making it three majors in a row, having already won the Masters and the US Open that year, and Woods has failed to get that far along the road to the Grand Slam since then.
Still, Woods says he harbours no ill-feeling towards the course many regard as being the finest links layout in world golf.
“This marks my second trip to Muirfield. My first visit in 2002 didn’t go very well,” he wrote on his website.
“I caught the worst of the weather and wound up tying for 28th. That’s just the nature of links golf. Luck plays a big part in it, and you never know what you’re going to get.
“Muirfield is one of the hardest courses in Scotland. The front nine is basically played clockwise and the back nine is played counter-clockwise and on the inside of the front nine.
“You have to shape the golf ball both ways, and you never know what’s going to come off that water as far as wind. It can change directions.
“If the wind switches, you can be aggressive on certain holes and others you have to be conservative.
“That’s the neat thing about a British Open: you just never know what type of conditions you’re going to get each day.”
Despite the elbow pain and the lack of play, Woods has been installed as the bookies favourite, with the conditions similar to those at Hoylake in 2006 when he won the third of his British Open titles.
On that occasion, the sun-baked fairways meant that he was able to use his driver just the once in 72 holes and still win comfortably.
Woods has won four times this year already and regained the world number one spot from Rory McIlroy, but he has failed to win a 15th major title, the last coming at the 2008 US Open.
Since then, his quest to overhaul Jack Nicklaus’ record mark of 18 majors has stalled as he was engulfed in a sex scandal that wrecked his marriage and sullied his reputation and then hit by a succession of injuries.