COMMENTARY | A total of 1,858 days have passed since Tiger Woods last raised a major championship trophy. Five years, one month and two days.
Stuck on 14 major championships for his career, an uneasy feeling has started to creep into the psyche of golf fans wondering if Woods can get his hands on one more major, much less the four he needs to tie Jack Nicklaus' all-time record and the five he needs to fulfill Earl Woods' prophecy.
Tiger's next chance comes at a course that owes him one: Muirfield.
When the Open Championship was last contested in Gullane in 2002, Woods was playing the best golf of his life and arguably in the midst of best stretch of golf in the history of the game.
Tiger had won both the Masters and the US Open by three strokes already in '02 and was the winner of seven of the last 11 major championships heading into the Open that week, the would-be third leg of the season Grand Slam.
Opening with rounds of 70-68 left Woods two shots off the pace heading into the weekend. Then, on Saturday afternoon, shortly before his 2:30 p.m. tee time, came a Scottish storm that washed away Woods' hopes for a third consecutive major championship. Woods shot a still-to-this-day career-worst 10-over-par 81, dropping so far down the leaderboard that even a final-round 6-under-par 65 couldn't put him back in contention. Woods ended up in a tie for 28th.
That failure began the biggest major drought in Woods' career to that point as a professional. Woods went the next 10 majors without a victory.
Today, Woods has now gone winless in the last 20 majors, although injury and scandal have only afforded him the chance to play in just 16 of those. He arrives back in the homeland of golf and to the scene of the first drought-inspiring course 11 years later.
This time around Muirfield, however, Woods has been met by conditions very similar to those of which he encountered at Hoylake in 2006, the site of his third and, to this point, final Open Championship victory.
The firm and fast course conditions at Muirfield coupled with a fair forecast over the expanse of the tournament proper led oddsmakers to believe that Woods is once again worthy of being named the betting favorite to win the game's oldest major.
As for Woods himself, of course he's planning on winning.
If Tiger is able to maneuver the annular layout of Muirfield, he will once again find himself named amongst golfing royalty. In the Open's 15 other trips to the home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, 13 of the winners were eventual Hall of Famers.
"You have to hit the ball well here, shape your shots," Woods said in his pre-tournament press conference. "It's very similar to look at the list of winners at our last major, the U.S. Open at Merion; all wonderful ball strikers and I think it's the same here."
Of the surnames on that list of past winners, "Nicklaus" is the one that still stands out to Woods. He's the one that Tiger has been chasing since he was a kid.
As hard as it is to believe, a win at Muirfield puts a 37-year-old Tiger back ahead of Nicklaus' pace. Jack won his 15th major championship at the 1978 Open Championship. He was 38.
All that stands between Woods and a fourth Claret Jug are narrow fairways, punishing rough, pot bunkers, a balky left elbow and 155 other players hell-bent on beating him.
It's been 1,858 days since Tiger Woods last raised a major championship trophy. Maybe the golfing gods owe him the win they stole from him back in 2002.
Chris Chaney is a Cincinnati, Ohio-based sportswriter. He has written for multiple outlets including WrongFairway.com, Hoopville.com, The Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer and The Clermont (OH) Sun.
Follow him on Twitter @Wrong_Fairway.
- Sports & Recreation
- Tiger Woods
- Earl Woods