Tiger Woods is now facing his most important tournament ever

Before EscaladeGate hit us in November of 2009, golf experts were looking at the lineup for this season's major championships with a very Tiger-friendly forecast.

We had Augusta National, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews. Of Tiger's 14 major championships, seven came at those three venues. Now, with two down and one to go, Woods is majorless in 2010, something anyone would have agreed was strange, but strange has been the calling card of Woods' year so far.

Now, at St. Andrews, Tiger faces his most important golf tournament ever.

The reasoning is written on the walls. Tiger is playing a golf course that he has absolutely destroyed, and continues to talk about like it is a relative. Earlier this week Tiger was asked to pick the four venues he'd most like to play for major championships.

"I'd probably pick St. Andrews all four times," he said.

This week, at this course, Tiger is expected to win. He's the odds-on favorite. He's (still) the top-ranked golfer in the world. He has won two of his three Opens here (and made the cut as an amateur in '95). He thinks his way around the course better than anyone. He avoids the nasty trouble better than anyone. He just seems like he has an advantage here that nobody else has.

[Photos: See Tiger Woods at the British Open]

And if he doesn't win? It would be time to start panicking for Team Tiger.

You see, it isn't like Tiger can't win majors coming up, but it would mean that Tiger has gone a lengthy stretch in his career where he didn't win a big one, and with no swing changes to lean against. While he is obviously bothered mentally, Tiger has been able to channel his golf game for stretches in the first two major championships, but he hasn't been able to pull it out like he used to.

This week, Tiger almost has to win if he wants a shot at Jack's record of 18 majors, and if he wants to get back on track.

There aren't a lot of must-wins in golf, but this week, Tiger is facing one. If he fails again, the questions about his overall state of mind, and golf game, will fire up like never before.

It's Tiger's tournament to lose, and for his sake, he better not.

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