CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (Reuters) - There was a spell not so long ago when Tiger Woods, in the depths of despair over recurring back problems, felt he would never again grace the fairways of a British Open.
It therefore comes as little surprise to see the 42-year-old American wearing a smile as wide as the Atlantic when he talks excitedly about the challenges that lie ahead as he prepares to take on the fearsome par-71 Carnoustie layout in Thursday’s opening round.
“I’ve always loved playing links golf,” the 14-times major winner told reporters. “It’s my favorite type.
“I enjoy this type because it is so creative. A certain shot you think is a wonderful shot down the middle of the fairway could bounce some weird way. That’s just part of it and the fun challenge of it.
“There were points in time I certainly thought I’d never play in this championship again,” said Woods, who will be making his first appearance at golf’s oldest major since 2015. “It’s great seeing it on TV but it’s even better in person.
“To have the opportunity to come back to play here in Scotland again, I’ve said this before throughout this year, it’s been a blessing.”
Woods, who returned from his latest back operation at the end of last year, has blown hot and cold this season but he clearly cannot wait to get to grips with Carnoustie for the fourth time in his career.
“This is our oldest championship and to come back to such a historic site just brings back so many great memories from playing here as an amateur and from the two Opens I’ve played,” said the former world number one.
“Each tournament I keep coming back to, I keep feeling a little bit better because I’m starting to play some golf again. I’ve made a few adjustments, I’ve changed putters and I’ve tweaked my swing a little bit.
“I’ve put myself up there in contention a couple of times. I just need to play some cleaner golf and who knows?”
The player with the hottest short stick generally stands apart from the rest of the field on any given week and Woods feels his performance on the greens has improved as a result of a recent switch to a mallet putter.
“I have putted a little bit better,” said the 2000, 2005 and 2006 British Open champion. “The mallet putter has grooves in it so it does roll initially a little bit faster and a little bit more true.
“I’ve struggled on slower greens throughout my entire career and it’s one of the reasons I really like the fact this putter has grooves in.
“It’s going to help on these greens because in virtually every single Open I’ve played in, I would put lead tape on my putter to try to get it a little bit heavier and get the ball rolling,” said Woods.
“I don’t necessarily have to do it with the grooves.”
Editing by Toby Davis