Tiger says Masters took toll as he crams for Open

8:20 AM ETBob HarigESPN Senior Writer Close Senior golf writer for ESPN.com
Covered golf for more than 20 years
Earned Evans Scholarship to attend Indiana UniversityPORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — Three months removed from one of his most remarkable victories at the Masters, Tiger Woods is still enjoying the immensity of that triumph — and struggling to return to that form.As the year’s fourth major is about to unfold this week, Woods admitted Tuesday that his win at Augusta National in April exacted a toll, and that the state of his game entering The Open at Royal Portrush is not at the same level.”It’s not quite as sharp as I’d like to have it right now,” Woods said Tuesday morning after a seven-hole practice session at Royal Portrush. “My touch around the greens is right where I need to have it.”I still need to get the shape of the golf ball a little bit better than I am right now, especially with the weather coming in and the winds are going to be changing. I’m going to have to be able to cut the ball, draw the ball, hit at different heights and move it all around. Today it was a good range session. I need another one tomorrow. And hopefully that will be enough to be ready.”If Woods appears less than confident, there is plenty of reason.He has played just 10 competitive rounds since winning the Masters, the only tournament in which he seriously contended all year. He is taking a crash course on Royal Portrush, a venue that has returned to The Open for the first time since 1951 and one Woods had never set foot on until Sunday.And then there are the ever-present physical issues that have forced Woods to play a reduced schedule, one he referenced again Tuesday. This is just his 10th event of the year.Since winning the Masters, Woods missed the cut at the PGA Championship, tied for ninth at the Memorial Tournament and tied for 21st at the U.S. Open, aided by playing his last 12 holes in 6 under par.But Woods then immediately embarked on a two-week trip to Thailand, where the amount of golf he played was “zero.” After 10 days at home, Woods arrived in Northern Ireland early on Sunday morning, and played 18-hole practice rounds on consecutive days.And returning to the level of sharpness he had at Augusta National has proved to be difficult.”Well, getting myself into position to win the Masters … it took a lot out of me. That golf course puts so much stress on the system,” said Woods, who then noted the slew of contenders over the back nine and how much he relished having his kids and his mom there to share the win. “It was a very emotional week and one that I keep reliving. It’s hard to believe that I pulled it off and I ended up winning the tournament.”As a younger player, Woods would often visit Ireland and play links golf and go fishing with his friend Mark O’Meara in advance of The Open.Now he is cramming to learn the course while also trying to find his game. He finished 11 strokes behind winner Gary Woodland at the U.S. Open and has not been better than 8 strokes behind in any tournament this year outside of the Masters.Woods still has not decided whether he will play the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational next week in Memphis, which would mean a stretch of five tournaments in six weeks, including the FedEx Cup playoffs.Knowing he had that ahead of him was among the reasons his schedule has been so limited. Woods said again Tuesday that he played too much last year (18 times on the PGA Tour) and that the new normal for him is a reduced schedule that is as much about preparation as about maintenance.There is still time to learn the course — most of the other players in the field face the same issue when it comes to learning Royal Portrush — but whether that will be enough for Woods is to be determined.”I want to play here as long as I possibly can. And you have to understand, if I play a lot, I won’t be out here that long,” Woods said. “So it’s understanding how much I can play, prepping how much I do at home and getting ready. And that’s the tricky part is trying to determine how much tournament play I need to get the feel for the shots and also understanding where my body is.”Woods is likely to hit only the driving range on Wednesday. He’ll rely on caddie Joe LaCava, who he said has done an “unbelievable job” of scouting the course and figuring out the various strategies as the weather is expected to turn chillier, with wind coming from a different direction.”It’s trying to figure out a game plan that will work,” Woods said.

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